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RayM
Posts:
308
Registered:
12/3/04


Re: Quotations from Andrei Toom
Posted:
Mar 24, 2002 2:07 PM


I too spend a lot of time ranting about educational quality in the US. I allocate the blame somewhat differently. I actually like textbooks that errors in them. It provides an opportunity to discuss how important it is to think for one's self. A recent example: "The kinetic energy of the roller coaster cars being lifted to the top is small." Well, it's only small if you ignore the rotational, orbital, and galactic orbital velocities, which are all large compared to the velocity that the text book authors thought interesting. I actually tend to heap a large part of the blame on parents, which is a bit unfair. Parents tend to accept what they read in the newpapers and hear on the TV. The educational debate is generally framed in terms of better books, better teachers, better schools, better tests. Very rarely are better parents mentioned. There are a very few public schools that test incoming students and then help the parents to change what they have (not) been doing with their children. It is a generally successful paradigm. But most parents blindly accept the party line that if they just spend more of their tax dollars things will radically change. I've reached the point where I'm ready to spend less of my tax dollars on education. I've lost faith in the existing system.
My 10 year old is finishing up prealgebra with a smattering of analytic geometry. His teacher supplements Dolciani et al. _Mathematics, Structure and Method_ (because that is the book that the school has) with samples from some of her own high school texts. (His teacher has a MS in mathematics, is retired, and is teaching at a private school because getting certified to teach in public schools would be a pain.) They rarely use calculators or computers. I try to provide balance to that by using Mathematica, MATLAB, and Excel for demos at home. In that context, the NCTM standards are farcical. His teacher estimates he will be doing calculus comfortably within 2 years. I've started to lay some of the ground work for that. We spent a Saturday together working on his science project. We dumped a capacitor bank into short lengths of various types of wire, photographed the explosions, and collected current and voltage data with a TDS 3014, transfered it to Excel in comma delimited (CSV) format and approximated the integrated power as a sum. To consolidate the E=1/2Cv^2 relation for the capacitor energy, we looked at F=kx and E = 1/2kx^2 for some real springs  more real data. As we talked about finding the area in the triangle analytically and how we had approximated the area with Excel, he made the conceptual leap that you could do it somehow with polynomial functions of force in general. What's the point? You can get good results in education with fair quality books, if there are compensating factors. A good place to start is to simply ignore the NCTM standards  they're not going away and trying to make them do so is just a waste of time. Get on with life.
Friday, I took my kids to the San Diego Regional Science Fair. I'd estimate that it was about 40,000 square feet of exhibits. I was able to speak at length with one of the 8th graders. She had used ICP AA to look at various metals leaching into foods from utensils. I probed a bit more and found she really knew what ICP was and had sought out that capability because "last year I used flame and you can't do aluminum with flame." I asked her how she got so smart and what her parents did: "They're both mathematicians and very supportive." Another exhibitor described how her parents had rearranged their lives to drive her to lab at 3pm and pick her up at 7pm every day for 4 months. It seemed to be a consistent link across many schools and disciplines.
So just what is the worst problem with the US educational system? If you had to pick a single thing to change tomorrow, what would it be?
 From: Domenico Rosa <DRosa@teikyopost.edu> To: mathedcc@mathforum.org Subject: Quotations from Andrei Toom Date: Thursday, March 21, 2002 14:05
The following excerpts are from an article written by Andrei Toom after teaching a Calculus II course for business majors. This article came to my attention when it was discussed by Albert Shanker, the late President of the American Federation of Teachers, in his weekly New York Times column ("Pseudoeducation," Week in Review section, Oct. 10, 1993).
In my opinion, Toom did an oustanding job at exposing the pseudoeducated students being produced in the US, and he is to be commended for speaking up in such a forthright manner. Toom was also quite outspoken in exposing the fraudulent promotions and incompetence of the NCTM leadership, whom he described as "impostors of education." Unfortunately, when Toom wrote the article, he was not aware of how our textbooks and teaching methods had degenerated during the previous 30 years.
It is clear to me that the situation has worsened since Toom wrote this article. I am particularly appalled by the increasing number of students whose high school math courses consisted of little more than idiotic drills with graphing calculators. The continuing pseudoeducation of American students is a national disgrace, and it is important that people speak up.
Dom Rosa 
Andrei Toom, A Russian Teacher in America, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, Vol. 12 (1993) pp.117139.
An adapted version of Toom's article was reprinted in the Fall 1993 issue of The American Educator (beginning on page 9). A shorter version appeared in the June and August 1996 issues of FOCUS, the newsletter of the MAA.
"Never before had I seen so many young people in one place who were so reluctant to meet challenges and to solve original problems. All they wanted were high grades, and they wanted to get them with a conveyor belt regularity." (p. 122)
"I had to learn that every technical calculation, which I was used to ignoring, was a considerable obstacle for my students. It took a considerable amount of time for me to understand how poor they were in basic algebraic calculations." (p. 123)
"Of course, students are different. Many want to learn, because curiosity is inherent in the human nature." (p. 125)
"They [students] are never carried away by the subject's charm for its own sake, as they believe they must be 'practical', that is never forget points and grades. As a result they never use the powerful potential of creativity given to them by nature." (p. 126)
"Elementary mathematics is normally taught to children who looked like children." (p. 127)
"The voluminous book ÃÂ
perfectly fits the maxmin principle of the market: maximal pretensions with minimal content." (p. 130)
"The moral status of those who designed the business calculus course is like that of colonialtime hucksters who sold cheap beads, mirrors and 'firewater' to ignorants, whose role is now played by students. I do not blame rankandfile teachers, because they have no choice." (p. 132)
"The students grabbed their calculators, but seemed not to know what to calculate. After a while, one produced a complicated and wrong answer. ... All they had learned was to follow a few recipes without thinking." (p. 135)
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