Monday, April 27, 2009

Where right is left and left is right, II

How can a blog page featuring two comparisons of Reform Math problems with Singapore Math problems, two entries about a Comic Book project (still no word on J's latest submission!), and an April 1st entry about local school reform suggest anything about the political leanings of the blogger in question?

My recent exchanges with an educator who defends Reform Math against "Reform Math haters" got me thinking about the politics of "left" and "right." Based largely on my Math Problems of the Week comparison problems, but perhaps also on the Comic Book entries and the April 1st entry, he concluded that it's "ironic" that I call myself "lefty."

Anyone who's followed this blog for any length of time, of course, will know that "lefty" alludes to my left-brain disposition, and that I studiously avoid politics in general here. There should be nothing I've written on this blog that gives any inkling of my views on terrorism, taxation, health insurance, environmental regulation, gay marriage, school prayer, or abortion.

And that's deliberate. People should be able to disagree vehemently on these other issues, and still have a rational debate about education. Indeed, in general, I believe it's best to engage one issue at a time, and focus on the details, where the devil is.

But that doesn't stop those most emotionally invested in particular teaching ideologies from leaping to political conclusions. Could it be that that's an easier way to dismiss the opposition than discussing the actual data?

If you have stories about sweeping assumptions that others have made about your politics based on specific things you've said about education, please share!


Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

I think the issue is that those who want to make a political issue about everything assume that that's the way everyone else thinks. These are the same people who will make random political remarks completely out of the blue. I've found that the level of vexatiousness of such comments tends to be independent of whether or not I agree with them.

The question of what is the most effective way of running a mathematics curriculum is completely independent of the question of who should be setting education policy and at what level. I am all for taking one battle at a time, and will therefore not argue a point which isn't being made.

Mrs. C said...

I started homeschooling after it became obvious to my husband (finally!) that the abuse Elf suffered at the public school would continue, and that the school wasn't meeting my son's needs and had no intention to.

So as a RESULT, my political opinions are more of an anti-public school slant. I still have older boys in ps (long story) but am very distrustful of authority in those buildings.

To my mind as a mother, these things (experience and political viewpoint on the next bond issue) are inseparable.

I make no secret of the fact that I'm a conservative Christian. I also believe that it is the duty of parents, insofar as they are able, to produce godly offspring.

But I don't homeschool BECAUSE of my Christianity, which I think is a common assumption. But wow, now that I am, you wouldn't believe how much curriculum is out there that is so so perfect for people just like me. We are doing a "secular" math program because I find the more Christian-y math stuff seems to force Jesus into every problem and is actually more literature-focused. (I hope that makes sense, but don't know if you have looked at any of that stuff.)

Anonymous said...

When your 'math hater' helped pilot a math reform curriculum and sat on the NSF grant committee that distributed funds promote math reform - you should expect some defensiveness.

Secondly, the world of math in general (at least in America) has more than its fair share of political and religious extremism.

This is starting with the tip of the iceberg. For one, there is the publishing industry that has done a fairly good job of market segmenting the US, but shown little concern for the content of their books. Secondly, there's Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (humanist socialists and TULIPS) where much of the research and writing has been done. Has anyone heard of the Boeing Achieve Standard?
Thirdly, Californians (Libertarians and the Hoover Institute -> SRI -> Maharishi University). Fourth, Texas (Dana Institute and the Moore Method) This list alone abounds with extremism moreso than even the PRC. I have had words with leaders from all of these groups and it is a farce.

The US should do itself a favor and adopt the Singapore curriculum. Put these other village idiots on a sinking island in the Pacific and tell them not to eat the sponges that you give them.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll jump in with both feet.

Now remember, I'm a little autistic myself, so I may not write smoothly.

Many well-meaning people see traditional mathematics with its standard arithmetic algorithms as laying down a pattern in children's minds for intolerance of the nonstandard.

Just as many well-meaning people suggest that teaching children about God is child abuse.

And so something as innocent-looking as a standard arithmetic algorithm, which you and I thought was simple evidence of mankind bettering itself and its prospects by finding one best way to compute with pencil and paper, becomes a hated means by which western cultures reproduce economic, racial, sexual inequality.

And so you get math-haters.

Opponents of standard algorithms and "one correct answer" are trying to raise all of our children to not accept one correct answer. To question authority.

They do not want children to accept an authority that perpetuates inequalities.

They conflate the "one correct answer" of mathematics with the "one correct answer" of institutional religion, and they oppose it.


Anonymous said...

You should really try to read a good textbook first, so you have something to compare. I've read more bad than good.

You have to recognize what characterizes problems that teach and problems that don't. (Trying reading a Core Plus answer guide.) It is a disappointment for teachers used to giving explanations for one correct answer.

In the interest of time and brevity, teachers and students prefer answers with simple explanations. Real world problems are poor examples when addressing teenagers with attention spans that get measured in seconds, not minutes. Adults don't seem to realize that teenagers get very irritated and annoyed at adults who rattle on for hours.

There are two things that I do know, with regard to the last post, that don't mesh well and might surprise some people are:

1. The timeliness and politics (moslty-Midwest) behind math reform are supported by an orthodox or reform-minded religious base. This explains some of the zeal, secrecy, and confusion behind 'success for all' - some of the 'new' literature makes reference to early 20th century pedagogy - not just Dewey, but Blavatsky, etc. Adler, himself, was a neo-Platonist and had a major influence on curriculum during Reagan's tenure, especially the theories behind how children develop academically. The AAAS was another early promoter of math and science textbook reform.

2. Algebra, as opposed to graphing on an xy-axis or using a table to guess and check answers, is teaching students to be more precise with their answers. And using cold-blooded deduction is the msot precise method of getting a correct answer. Science tends to dwell more in the field of fuzziness (as it should). One paradox is that as students take more math for remediation, they are taking less advanced science. My high school no longer offers science electives. The kids say that these classes have too much math.

Anonymous said...

Let's see. Defining my terms, "math haters" was not people who say "I was never good at math" or people who hate reform math; I was referring to a class of people who reject teaching children one best way to compute.

People should be able to disagree vehemently on these other issues, and still have a rational debate about education.If educere = to lead, then, no, we can't disagree on these fundamental questions about how we should live, without bringing these same disagreements into a rational debate about how to lead children to live their lives.

To whatever extent people hold irrational beliefs, or wish to hide their irrational desires, or simply do not have the talent to put their beliefs or desires into rational terms for debate, you will not get a rational debate on the means to the end: the leading of children to the destination of human society.

But that doesn't stop those most emotionally invested in particular teaching ideologies from leaping to political conclusions. Could it be that that's an easier way to dismiss the opposition than discussing the actual data?They leap to political conclusions because public education (leading children to a destination) is an inescapably political process.

I assert that eliminating standard algorithms is a means to a political end. The arguments that have been marshalled and will be marshalled to eliminate direct instruction of standard algorithms will prove resistant to any rational debate until it is a openly political debate.

To summarize, we go around in circles until we investigate people's beliefs and desires.

I'm tired of trying to focus on rational details and rational data. Reform Math proponents are adept at hiding behind details and data with "research says..." and "every child learns differently..."

Remember, these are words people not numbers people.

Lefty, I would prefer to draw Reform Math proponents out into the open to examine their desired destination for human society, to see if we agree on the destination, and then they are welcome to explain why direct, explicit instruction in standard algorithms prevents our children from reaching that destination.