Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 13 2010

Joining the math wars!

TFA alumni happy hour this evening served as a catalyst for the idea to try to infiltrate local meetings of “Where’s the Math?” Where’s the Math is a local group headed by Cliff Mass that is leading a misguided attempt to remove all inquiry based math or reform math from the Seattle schools. They recently won a lawsuit against the school board who apparently did a bad job at adopting the Discovering Algebra curriculum. We use the book at my school, and I don’t think it is “mathematically unsound” as the group claims but clearly something went wrong in the adoption process because the decision was seen as capricious and not following proper procedures. My guess is that most textbooks are adopted in a fairly haphazard manner and no one has strong enough opinions to mount a lawsuit over it so the adoption goes uncontested.

The passion for reform math and all of it’s boring procedural practice is astounding. I do think that algebraic fluency is helpful and that knowing the multiplication tables is useful knowledge but I wonder why people are so passionately attached to this rather dull way of learning. It’s not like they use the algebra they learned in high school on the job frequently.(At least according to some studies about the transfer of mathematics learned in high school to the real world.) I don’t understand why they think that math educators are the spawn of Satan, hell bent on ruining students mathematical futures for their own financial gain. I met the authors of Connected Math and they were certainly passionate, smart and wanted the best for students. One post, in fact, mentioned that math educators were considered lower than the janitors at some universities. People have such strong ties to tradition, but considering how poorly the United States is doing on national assessments of mathematics I wonder why they think traditional instruction is doing a good job.

Being with TFA alumni who were involved in reform and change got my blood boiling. I’ve been trying to listen to my intuitions about what I care about and the the front-lines of the math wars seem like where I’m going to be the happiest. I decided to try to infiltrate the meetings of the uber-traditional group to get a good sense of enemy strategy. I think I’ll have a great disguise as a high school math teacher who is concerned about my Calculus students who can’t do basic algebra. This is all true. I’m definitely concerned but I am positive these students encountered a traditional book and direct instruction and just memorized and forgot the procedures. I just won’t throw that part in.

In other news, I was really impressed at the variety of interesting education related careers that the alumni were involved in. It made me want to rejoin the fight!

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    Learning more about life than math…

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