Mark Slouka's recent Harper's article about the supposed dominance of math and science in our schools prompted me to write the following letter to the editor:
If Mark Slouka [“Dehumanized”] were to visit an American grade school classroom, he would see that math and science do not rule the school. While classes called “math” and “science” still exist, they contain far less actual math and science than they did a generation ago. Indeed, Slouka’s observations about today’s reading assignments apply as well to assignments in math and science: intended, in Slouka’s words, to “provide students with mirrors of their own experience,” they have students connecting math and science to their personal lives rather than doing challenging problems. This worries many mathematicians, scientists, and parents, not because they want children, in Slouka’s words, to be “hired by Bill Gates,” but because we’re raising a generation of innumerate, scientifically illiterate citizens and turning off our brightest young lights in math and science.But Harper's declined to publish any letters challenging the article's key assumption that math and science control our schools. Of the three letters they did publish, only one mentioned math education. Its author, a longtime "teacher of mathematics," writes:
I... choose to teach mathematics with reading assignments, art projects, oral presentations, even poetry--all to encourage critical thinking in my students, and to cultivate questioning minds.Harper's doesn't seem to recognize that, thanks in large part to the many teachers like this one, math and science don't rule our schools.