Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enlightened exchanges with Reform Math defenders, III

Whew! I'm done posting my favorite comments of the year, and it's time to start using my own words again. I thought I'd begin with a recent exchange I had with an individual from my recent past.

The Drexel University Math Forum recently had a discussion about the plight of mathematically gifted children, to which I posted the following comment:

KB: Scores of bright math students--from moderately to extremely gifted--are bored out of their minds by the level of challenge offered by Reform Math classes in public, private, and parochial schools alike. I know this because I interviewed them for my new book ("Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School"). Their parents know it as well. And other people would know it, too--if they simply bothered to listen to what these children have to say.
This lead to the following back-and-forth between myself and a lecturer in mathematics education by the name of Michael Paul Goldenberg (not to be confused with E Paul Goldenberg), who spends much of his time defending Reform Math against "Reform Math haters," including yours truly (cf here and here):
MGP: I was so fascinated with the notion of "left-brained" and "right-brained" children that I went to Ms. Beals' web site to learn more. There I found the following: "A note on left-brain, right-brain, and brain hemispheres Here left-brain and right-brain are used in the informal, everyday sense. They do not refer in any way to left and right brain hemispheres. Left-brain: logical, systematic, analytical, one-at-a-time, abstract, verbal, introverted. Right-brain: emotional, incidental, intuitive, holistic, relational, nonverbal, social." Boy, am I confused.
KB: Please don't be; these are fuzzy categories, as I make clear in my book (where there's more space to elaborate than on my website) and it goes without saying that many people have "left-brain" and "right-brain" traits.
MGP: ...while at the same time just happening to come down along the lines of some of our most preciously-held gender stereotypes.
KB: Not my personal stereotypes: I'm left-brained and female. But, I'm open to the possibility that more males than females are left-brained. Simon Baron-Cohen has interesting data on this.
MGP: ...Along with the fact that one of the authors who praises Ms. Beals' work is the author of a book entitled THE MINDS OF BOYS.

KB: Guilt by association?

MGP: Now along comes Ms. Beals to argue that not only are progressive curricula and pedagogy in math education boring the bejeezus out of a bunch of budding math geniuses, but it turns out that there is an actual brain-based reason
KB: How can you attribute to me a "brain-based" reason when you just quoted me as saying that 'left-brain' and 'right-brain' "do not refer in any way to left and right brain hemispheres."
MGP: ...for kids (mostly boys, I gather) to be nerds who are, of course, gifted in mathematics to some degree or other (it's a little hazy how wide a swath giftedness cuts, exactly, but I'll not quibble over such niceties).
KB: Plenty of girls, too.
MGP: ...So does this mean we DO have to find different ways to teach different "flavors" of child? That we can neatly categorize some/many/most/all kids into either right-brained (the darlings of progressives, I guess, especially because they sound like what are usually thought of as feminine) or left-brained (future NASA dudes in white shirts with pocket protectors: see the control room scenes in APOLLO 11 and THE RIGHT STUFF if you can't conjure up the image yourself)? Not sure what to make of people with graduate degrees in, say, literature AND mathematics education,
KB: Please don't conflate graduate degrees in mathematics education with graduate degrees in mathematics. The coursework involved in the one vs. the other is extremely different.
MGP: ...but are always a few of us around to make neat dichotomizing a little more difficult than it should be.
KB: These are fuzzy categories (cf above), and I'm not the one assigning gender stereotypes here.
MGP: ...Really puzzled at how the MC/HOLD cadre will respond to Ms. Beals' work. After all, she seems to suggest we need different sorts of content and methods for different kids.
KB: In my book, I argue (chapter 3) that left-brain kids are *especially* shortchanged by the reform curricula, but also (chapter 6) that children in general are also ill-served.
MGP: Boys will be nerds and girls will be housewives and people of color will learn their rightful places toting and cleaning, and all will be Right and White with the world.
KB: I'm sorry you see it this way.


Beth said...

Wow. It is so frustrating to try to communicate with someone who has no intention of listening to your point of view. And how does he manage to bring racism in to the conversation?

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Sounds like MGP is the one laboring under a boatload of prejudices and preconceived notions.

Jennifer said...

Ultimately, though, reform math's last fortress is the claim that it addresses the performance gap--and it does. By lowering the top level, the gap does shrink. Therefore, anyone who's against reform math must...automatically want to increase the size of the performance gap, and, thus, be a racist.