Tuesday, June 28, 2005

New, New Math

In the 1970s a band was formed in my hometown of Rochester, New York to celebrate freedom from the multiplication tables. The New Math rock band was “whatever you wanted it to be” for the occasion. I thought its music was incoherent, but then I didn’t like the Beetles either. The New Math big hit was “Die Trying.” R.I.P.

Meanwhile, our daughter Carolynne was struggling with the new math in grammar school. New Math emphasized abstract concepts like set theory and number bases other than 10, rather than arithmetic and the multiplication tables. This new focus was frequently dogmatic. In some cases first-graders were taught axiomatic set theory. Poor Carolynne.


Many parents and teachers complained that the new curriculum was far too abstract and essentailly worthless if it took the place of traditional math training. In the end it was concluded that the experiment was not working, and New Math fell out of favor. Too late for Carolynne but not for John.

Tom Leyher wrote a satirical song named New Math, making fun of the more absurd aspects of the subject: "...in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you're doing, rather than to get the right answer."


New Math was a disaster for a generation of kids. Now we have a new, new math, also called “Ethnomath” that is truly appalling.

In the 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real-life problem solving, using everyday situations.

To get an idea of what’s involved take a look at the index of an Ethnomath textbook. Under “F” you find “families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises and fund-raising carnival.

Now math is being used as a political tool by educators who call themselves "critical theorists" to advance social justice. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomath and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth.

Note to parents: The countries that regularly beat our students in tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. (Diane Ravitch, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.)



6 Comments:

Anonymous pard said...

Here's to old fashioned arithmetic!!!

7:44 PM  
Anonymous pard's pard said...

f(t) = -2[u(t-a)]
f'(t)= ?

A problem for you to solve.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I love Diane Ravitch - I have her book The Language Police. Excellent.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can blame new and ethno on TEXT BOOK PUBlishers----they are the only ones to benefit from this odd business...Francisco said "you've (the USA) had schools for 200 years...you don't know what is necessary to learn for success in life YET? All other worlds--nations-- are still doing it the old-fashioned way.

I wrote letters in later 60's early 70's explaining that TEXT BOOK PUUBLISHERS GOT THE STATE BIOARD OF EDUCATION TO FIX IT SO SCHOOL DISTICTS HAD NO CHOICE but TO BUY NEW TEXTS--COMPLETELY NEW EVERY 7 YEARS AND IT WAS A MONEY WASTING SCANDLE...I wrote to Wilson Riles, State Super--all I could surmise is that such big spenders were in bed with Text book publishers and they both were devoid of ethics and morals--a teacher standing alone could do nothing---I could name two elementary administrators that practically wrote me up---maybe they did--for requiring my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students to memorize the times tables---then I learned the lower grade teachers weren't requiring the student to memorize 3 + 4= 7 or that 7- 4 =3----

I am suggesting that you might as well poke out their eyes or stop up their ears--you are crippling your students---I beat a lot of dead horses in my day but I hope MY students were competent--at least in Arithmatic and they loved a good story.

As the man in the garage said....follow the money........

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