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The Math Education Crisis


 Mathematical Mis-education

Mathematicians and other scientists are upset about the current state of math education in American schools. Here are a few nuggets taken from the website http://wisemath.org/.

“We support a balanced approach between understanding and skills. Unfortunately, in the shift towards ensuring that children understand math concepts, which we support, several important elements of mathematics have been neglected, or completely eliminated, from curricula and math classrooms.”

“The most recent version of the WNCP (Western and Northern Canadian Protocol) math curriculum omits all standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.”

“Martin Scharlemann, while chairman of the Department of Mathematics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote an open letter deeply critical of the K-6 curriculum MathLand, identified as “promising” by the U. S. Department of Education. In his letter, Professor Scharlemann explains that the standard multiplication algorithm for numbers is not explained in MathLand. Specifically he states, “Astonishing but true — MathLand does not even mention to its students the standard method of doing multiplication.” ”

“Post-secondary instructors are also frustrated by the weak math skills of many new graduates and are troubled by the fact that many math teachers are not receiving adequate training in math before entering classrooms in Canada.”

It is inconceivable to me that anyone would think that you can understand Arithmetic, let alone Algebra, without mastering the basic algorithms for addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. Yes, you can buy a $10 calculator that will “find the answer” to any given numerical calculation, but this does NOT imply that learning these algorithms is not necessary.

The 7-11 checkout clerk tells you your purchases add up to $8.63, so you hand him a $10 bill and he gives you $1.24 change. When you get outside you ask yourself how come a coke ($1.49) and some chips ($2.49) can add up to over $8.00. So you reach for your calculator – oops, it’s at home. So you return to the store to complain, but the clerk explains that there was tax of 87c. Now what? Shrug it off? Too bad you never learned how to add or multiply, and after that how to do quick approximate sums in your head.

Then you go to a political rally, where the candidate tells you that his opponent’s tax policies will cost taxpayers $750 billion. Is this realistic? And is it dollars per year, or over a 4-year period? And how much is that per average taxpayer? Would you dare take out your calculator there among all the screaming audience? And how do you enter the number 750 billion into the calculator, anyway?

Math Overboard!

If that was your experience in school, you might want to re-learn your basic math from scratch. I would like to recommend my recently published book Math Overboard! (Basic Math for Adults). Covering all of school math, from kindergarten to Grade 12, Math Overboard! stresses the importance of understanding math in detail, as you learn it, or in this case, re-learn it. Frequent Problems test your understanding as well as your skills. It’s not an easy book, but it’s your best hope to really learn what math is all about.

For further information, please visit Math Overboard!