Dr. Kari Miller just added an excellent article titled “Parenting tips for special needs kids with math disabilities.” Please read it.
But let me offer a caveat: math instruction in public schools turns almost EVERYONE into a special needs kid.
As Dr. Miller states: “Math is the most poorly taught subject in school, particularly in elementary school. Research has proven that elementary teachers are uncomfortable with math—not only with teaching math, but with using mathematical principles in their own lives. In fact, many elementary teachers suffer from math anxiety themselves. Therefore, most elementary teachers are not good influences on the mathematical learning and attitudes of their students.” Point is, the teachers themselves are in a way special needs people, made so by the math instruction they received just 10 or 15 years before.
I’m glad to have this hook, as they say in the newspaper business. Dr. Miller’s views give context and credence for several things I’ve been working on recently.
I like cutting to the bottom line, so let me sum up my conclusions this way: math instruction is a failure, a scandal, and I suspect a con. I had thought that Whole Word (which keeps so many children from reading) was the paradigm for awfulness. But the gimmicks devised by our Education Establishment to teach arithmetic are a close second.
The more I looked at New Math, which came and went around 1965, the more I felt it was just a pile of nonsense. More to the point now, I realized that it never went away. What the Education Establishment called Reform Math, circa 1990, was just a warmed-over version of New Math, and still just as awful.
Reform Math, which is actually a dozen separate curricula, was based on the so-called Standards created by the National Council of Teachers of Math. The NCTM constantly badgers the states to make them adopt these Standards. Now the federal government has jumped in with its National Standards and Common Core Standards, which are more of the same. Think Sub-Standards.
Figuring out the bloodlines and distinctions is not that relevant. The main thing to realize is that New Math was based on the idea of teaching little children how to do arithmetic by teaching them about set theory, Boolean algebra, base-8, and many other things not traditionally learned until high school or college. This is the lethal sophistry that the NCTM has tried-- with depressing success-- to insinuate into every classroom. I believe this sophistry is dangerous and should be stopped immediately.
Children should learn basic arithmetic, using every trick, game, song and digital technology you can throw at the problem. But kids shouldn’t go on to the more advanced stuff until they master the simple stuff.
Two years ago, I wrote “36: The Assault on Math (on Improve-education.org), where I noted an astonishing parallel: the Education Establishment had embraced unworkable methods to teach reading and as well to teach arithmetic. Maybe they weren’t acting in good faith. ( www.improve-education.org/id60.html )
Two months ago I tracked down two of the books written circa 1964 to explain to kids and parents the ins and outs of New Math. Both these books are grotesque to me. I simply can’t believe a sensible, sincere adult would use any of these methods in the first, second and third grades. In the middle grades, you might introduce a few of them. (But remember that 50 years ago, these topics were taught only in high school and college, and standards were much higher then. So our so-called experts have dumbed down the schools and then insisted on the preposterous idea that in a dumbed-down school, you should suddenly start teaching things that are 10 grades ahead of the children.) Anyway, I reviewed both these books on Amazon. Here is a link to the more provocative review. Especially read this one. (http://www.amazon.com/teachers-parents-elementary-school-children/product-reviews/B0007DO4K2/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1 ) in
Last week I added another math article to my site “53: Education Establishment Hates Math,” which extends some of these points.
Almost simultaneously, as a thought experiment, I wrote a piece for hubpages.com called “Price’s Easy Arithmetic For First Graders" (http://hubpages.com/hub/PricesEasyArithmetic ) I suggest you could teach all of first-grade arithmetic using only US coins. This was just to make the point that all the bewildering complexity is in no way helpful or necessary.
Now I find myself working on a even bigger article which will be published in a week or two. You can see I became quite obsessed with the teaching of arithmetic. In examining this stuff, you are able to look into the heart of darkness. And math is hot now. There are a lot of stories in the daily press about the National Standards, and how the government is throwing money at the states to make them capitulate. Even worse, local newspapers (mine in Norfolk is particularly egregious) push for the wrong side. You can go on the internet (corestandards.org) and read some of the empty prose. Many states are fighting back; I urge you to encourage your governor to resist.
Here is just a single Standard from a single state for the FIRST GRADE. The thing to note is the hostility of the prose; and try to imagine the teachers Dr. Miller talked about explaining to anyone what they themselves are supposedly doing.
"Demonstrates conceptual understanding of rational numbers with respect to: whole numbers from 0 to 100 using place value, by applying the concepts of equivalency in composing or decomposing numbers; and in expanded notation using models, explanations, or other representations; and positive fractional numbers (benchmark fractions: a/2, a/3, or a/4, where a is a whole number greater than 0 and less than or equal to the denominator) as a part to whole relationship in area models where the denominator is equal to the number of parts in the whole using models, explanations, or other representations."