I'm reminded of a column I read recently in the Exxon Education Foundation Newsletter. It was written by Bob Witte of the Foundation. He kindly gave me permission to reprint his comments.
"Those of us who would like to make the ongoing debate into a war with winners and losers do us another disservice, because I believe an ongoing, informed discussion about what it means or should mean to learn mathematics, and how we can know when that mathematics has been learned, is essential for the continuing development of teaching for understanding. Absent that kind of strong discussion that includes both pedagogy and content, efforts to improve schooling for children often go astray. Because we can have such a discussion about mathematics, teachers can have confidence that inevitable errors in content, method, and strategy will over time be corrected. The most productive force for this correction comes most usefully from the active reflection of teachers an dother mathematics educators in the contexts of real classrooms. The critics of teaching for understanding or "math reform" seem to miss this. I am struck by the apparent total absence, in most criticism, of any mention of the nature of the teaching that is implicit in the traditional mathematics instruction that is advocated. The unstated assumption, it seems to me, is that teaching is "covering material" and, of course while "making the kids behave--and do their homework." If this is done, some critics appear to believe, the kids will "get it." If that is the sort of teaching the grown-ups want in their schools, and if that is the sort of teaching they are prepared to support teachers in accomplishing, then they may well be better off with traditional teaching. Reformed teaching for understanding is not for the ill-prepared or disinterested. Does this mean that improved mathematics instruction should not be attempted until it can somehow be "proven" to be some minimum percentage "better" than traditional pedagody? No. No, because when teachers can usefully ask and answer the questions about what the child does and does not know about the mathematics, and when she or she has access to resources and colleagues who can help choose what to do with that assessment knowledge to advance the student's understanding, teaching becomes many times more productive than is the case with traditional methods. . . . It is tragic when teachers are diverted from that work by politically motivated critics. At the same time, we must have throughtful critics if we are to continue to improve mathematics instruction. I hope we can continue the discussion of mathematics teaching and learning without a "math war." And I would like to add to that discussion some talk about what support and preparation teachers must have to bring the promise of the Standards to life for the chldren in their classrooms."
---------- p.s. spelling or typo errors are mine alone!