HOW EXPERTS DUMB DOWN MATH EDUCATION
by David Klein and Jerry Rosen
Education experts, university administrators, and professors bear a special responsibility for the problems in our public schools. As math professors at California State University, Northridge, we have been confronted with policies and ideologies which mediocritize K-12 mathematics education.
We have the highest regard for public school math teachers and in no way do we diminish their abilities, dedication, and achievements, under adverse circumstances. But it is difficult to attribute their successes to the kind of undergraduate education they would receive at CSUN.
CSUN has five sets of course sequences leading to a bachelors degree in mathematics. One such sequence is designed for future secondary teachers. It is the weakest of the five. The courses required for the "secondary teaching" B.A. degree in mathematics are watered down versions of the courses for the other non teaching options. The capstone course of undergraduate mathematics, which explains why calculus "works," is required of all students seeking a Bachelors degree in mathematics, except from those who intend to become secondary school teachers. These future teachers may very well teach calculus in high school, yet they are not required to understand it at the same level as the other math majors. The future teachers we have had in our classes compare favorably with other math majors. It is an insult to the teaching profession to impose these lower standards and one not unique to CSUN.
The 1992 Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools governs, to a considerable extent, the mathematics curriculum in California's public schools. It is a model of mediocrity. The Framework recommends that calculators be issued to kindergartners and used in all K-12 grades; it strongly discourages placing students by ability or achievement; it advocates that teachers do more "facilitating" and less "teaching;" it discourages testing, and promotes portfolios, "authentic assessment," and "holistic scoring rubrics;" it de-emphasizes basic skills and promotes "cooperative work" over individual responsibility. In short, it is the bible of "fuzzy math."
Although university level education experts support it, many courageous high school math teachers denounce the "new new math" or "fuzzy math" of the Framework. During a recent meeting at CSUN with eight high school math teachers, we learned that they re-bind their heavily used traditional math books because they don't want to use the new texts which incorporate the principles of the Framework. Students at other schools may not be so lucky.
Why is this kind of mediocrity promoted by so many education professors and education experts? We suggest that it is simply good intentions gone awry, resulting in institutionalized "liberal racism." Liberal education experts fear that minority students can't learn real math because of "cultural differences." They recognize that it would be preposterous to lower standards only for those students while maintaining high standards for other groups. Thus, the education experts lower standards for everyone, with "authentic assessment" replacing hard-core, standardized tests, and so-called "higher order thinking" supplanting basic skills.
The clearest refutation of the racism disguised by the Framework comes from the work of Jaime Escalante, the teacher who was immortalized in the movie, "Stand and Deliver." Mr. Escalante proved beyond any doubt that minority students from poor neighborhoods can do as well in mathematics as any other group. His methods were traditional and "non fuzzy."
As with "Whole Language Learning," education professors will indoctrinate pre-service teachers in the "new new math." As time goes on, it will be harder to undo the damage. A component of this "fuzzy math" approach is to encourage unearned self-esteem and some students, parents, and even teachers may be misled into a false sense of achievement.
More than 2,000 years ago, Ptolemy asked Euclid if geometry could not
be mastered by an easier process than by studying the Elements.
Euclid gave his oft quoted reply, "There is no royal road to geometry."
Though education experts might wish it otherwise, learning mathematics
requires hard work and hard work has no substitute. Teachers and students
in other countries understand that time-tested principle better than we
do and this bodes ill for our future. For the sake of our children
and our society, for the sake of our future, it is time to demand real
standards in our schools and universities.