Despite efforts
from Washington, math education is still in trouble in the U.S. We are now experiencing the so called “math
wars”. Educators are competing with
policy makers, and mathematicians are challenging both. The argument is that educators are focused on
the mission and purity of education as a whole. Education is the basis for lifelong learning
and free thought. When mathematics is
concerned there is a wedge between mechanical learning and reasoning. University mathematicians believe that
teaching reasoning before standard algorithms is crippling student‘s abilities
to learn the more advanced concepts in college level mathematics. It is argued that before learning mathematical
and numerical reasoning students must understand the standards of math.

The dangers of sticking to a mechanical standard algorithm
approach are flexibility, intellectual growth, and individual ability.
Flexibility refers to having a standard such as right to left based
calculation. This concept alone can prove very confusing especially in younger
students who are still honing their reading skills. In most languages,
specifically English, students are learning to read from left to right. Every
time they are exposed to any form of writing they are taught that it should be
understood from left to right. When children begin learning math they are
taught to read math in contradiction to all the other reading that they learn.
In essence this can cause confusion in both subjects for most students. Not only is the left to right approach quicker
and easier, it also flows logically with the way we are taught to read.

Another issue is that when teachers are grounded with this
single algorithm method, students who understand it differently are often
punished with bad grades. Some teachers
are so set in the standard right to left and carry method, that if a student
chooses to use a different method they are given a bad grade. The stigma put on outside the norm
computation will stunt the students drive and understanding of math. It places
in them the “why am I wrong when I got the same answer?” argument. I had a personal experience with this
receiving a failing grade on a test because on the page where you “show your
work” I did all multiplication from left to right. The teacher of the class I
was in had no clue how that method worked and therefore failed me on my exam “for
cheating”. The reason given was that the only way to multiply is the standard right
to left so the work shown was an attempt to cover up cheating. Now this is a specific individual example that
does not reflect all teachers, but there are still some that are so set in the
standard that “out of box” thinking is “out the window”.

Aside from flexibility, we have the issue of intellectual
growth. Intellectual growth is arguably
the central idea of education. The
ability to think and reason is devastatingly uncommon among many adults and
children. Most educators wish to remedy
this situation, by trying to step outside of the memorize and regurgitate on
the test paradigm. Standardized testing
is standardizing thinking and learning which is destroying innovation and
lifelong learning. While most agree that
some concepts should be tested and retained to be successful in college, the
ways by which we test and use these concepts need to be modified.

The last issue is individual ability. Going back to the
personal example of being labeled a cheater for utilizing a method that was
easiest to me was a stab at my individual abilities. That failure caused me to
have to take a much lower level math class then I should have been in twice. Luckily, the next time around I had a better informed
teacher that removed me from that class put me into pre-calculus instead where
I aced the exams. The point is that no
matter how you try to standardize people, we are all individuals with
individual ability to understand the world around us.

I agree with liberating the system of standardization. I also feel that however an individual were to understand the concepts presented to them, as long as they are able to perform the desired task accurately there should be no punishment. Instead there should be appreciation and an expansion of the way in which all people evaluate their abilities.

ReplyDeleteUnfortunately, good teachers are being "priced" out with education cuts, leaving a dangerous level of rigidity in the educational system.

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