In Dumbing DownÂ I mentioned the concern about mathematics education in Washington State USA. There is now a campaign there about ‘reform math’ which appears to be a system of education that tries to avoid teaching mathematics skills. As part of the campaign you can watch videos on YouTube from meteorologists Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth (which unfortunately stops half-way through) and Math Education: A University View. The latter video claims that California abandoned ‘reform math’ some years ago and as a result had an astonishing increase in students’ mathematical performances. You can read more on the campaign’s website Where’s the Math?
I shall be following this debate because, where the US goes, the UK often follows. This dumbing down of mathematical educationÂ may beÂ linked to the shortage of good mathematics teachers since such ‘reform math’ can be taught by non-mathematicians. It’s clear that the descent into aÂ downward spiralÂ soon follows.
In the UK there has been a suggestion of ‘bribing’ students to study maths and science A levels ‘Pay students’ to revive science – are today’s students that shallow? How about good mathematics teaching which imbues a sense of wonder and delight?
Â Alexandre Borovik in Division of Labour suggests that
The era of extensive mathematical education of majority is over — we have to develop a model of intensive mathematical education of minority.
He is not convinced that the mathematical education community can do this. I like the ideaÂ of extending the syllabus forÂ those students who have the ability but I amÂ also concerned about not leaving mathematics to an elite totally cut-off from the rest of the country.
Â Hence myÂ previous question in Dumbing Down
Is it possible to teach mathematics to a larger range of students without compromising on the level taught?
PS I just have to add this quote from The Unapologetic MathematicianÂ discussing this issue because it encapsulates what I have been trying to say for years though I fear it fell on deaf ears
The algorithm comes first, and understanding comes later. Mathematics simply is. It cannot be negotiated. Mathematics education as realized in the NCTM standards has been taken over by sociologists, or even Critical Theorists. They are vehemently opposed to the seemingly-authoritarian rote method and saying â€œjust do it like this and donâ€™t ask whyâ€. Never mind the fact that in this case â€œwhyâ€ comes naturally after â€œhowâ€. And itâ€™s about time for mathematicians to come down and start kicking some ass over this, or weâ€™ll be left with nobody capable of replacing us.