My last post was titled "Good News." Maybe this is good news also. Today's 11/17/06 Detroit News carries a New York Times article by Tamar Lewin titled "Math goes back to basics." The sub-title is "Lagging test scores prompt change in teaching strategy." It starts with:
"SEATTLE -- For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.
The changes are being driven by students' lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians' warnings that more than a decade "reform" math -- critics call it "fuzzy" -- has crippled students with its downplaying of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems."
It sure has crippled students' minds. That parents seem to see this after the fact tells a lot about the observationsl powers of teachers. It continues:
"At the same time, parental unease has prompted even more families to pay for outside tutoring. Shalimar Backman, who put pressure on officials here by starting a parents group, Where's the Math?, remembers the moment she became concerned.
"When my oldest child, an A+ stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division, so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, 'We don't teach long division; it stifles their creativity.'"
That this is even being admitted in a NYT article and carried in a number 2 newpaper in another major city like Detroit has to be a step in the right direction. I wonder how many other papers carried the NYT article. Objectivists have known for a long time that modern education is not about teaching childrens' minds but rather is about the destruction of teaching. Maybe now the general public will see it also.
The article points out how these education officials happen to be the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics who published a 1989 report "...that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math and use tools like the calculator alongside of learning algorithms.
But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to "mile wide, inch deep" standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade."
So now we know who the culprits are, the NCTM. And who is behind the impetus to make these changes to the shotgun approach to teaching math?
"Grass-roots groups in many cities are agitating for a return to basics."
The point here is that it isn't the so-called concern of teachers but grass-roots efforts by the public that are demanding a return to a more rational method of teaching where the child understands instead of memorizing and guessing and where knowledge is taught in an hierarchical manner. I recommend reading the whole article.
As to why a hierarchical order is necessary I recommend Lisa Van Damme's article "How to teach your child: a necessary order to knowledge" at Capitalism Magazine.
There is a tiny little kernel of truth embedded in the modern philosophy of education, that convinces some parents that modern teaching of math and reading is acceptable. This kernel is: that learning exclusively by rote is a bad thing.
The apparent dichotomy is between these two approaches:
* Learn by rote
* Never use rote
Neither is right, so teachers "fudge" and do a bit of the other too, probably thinking to themselves: "one can't be too theoretical".
Of course, the right theory is: use rote, where appropriate. One has to understand to have good knowledge AND one has to automatize to build on that knowledge.
Not knowing long division in 6th grade is shocking. My son was doing it in 2nd grade!
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