Malicious Math Methods Manufacture Mediocrity

RottenAppleby Bruce Price   12/3/13
Let’s talk about cooking an omelette, fixing a carburetor, or setting a bone. If you are an expert at any of these, you probably have a favorite way to do it and maybe one or two others. But for most adults, we need to know one method so well we can do it automatically.

If you try to learn a second way, the two are going to get mixed up. Under pressure, you won’t be able to do either of them right. And that’s describing a typical adult, never mind the distracted kids in middle school.

The weird brains in charge of U. S. math education weaken math instruction by always teaching too much in the short term so they end up teaching little in the long term.

This phenomenon is painfully illustrated in Reform Math, many varieties of which teach children three or four ways to add, multiply, etc. This perverse instruction says: there are many ways to cook an omelette, we’ll learn one each week, won’t that be fun? No, it’s a waste of energy and counterproductive.

This critique is prompted by a paper submitted for a Masters in Education. The author explains nine exotic ways to multiply numbers. None is the way that most adults know, the method that parents could help teach to their children. (Excluding parents seems to be a goal.)

Here are the methods:

Finger Multiplication; Area Model of Multiplication; Lattice Multiplication; Line Multiplication; Circle/Radius Multiplication; Paper Strip Multiplication; Egyptian Multiplication; Russian Peasant Multiplication; Vedic Multiplication.

The author claims: “Many students find these methods appealing and easier to navigate, even to the point of preferring them to the more traditional algorithm.”

“Many”?? People who will become math professors at MIT might enjoy learning different ways. But kids planning to major in literature or history? Kids not planning to go on to study math at all? It’s out of the question that average kids would find them appealing or easier.

Here is the author’s sophistry in defense of this multiplicity: “Education has grown beyond the point where all students were expected to learn in the same way and by the same instructional methods.”

Says who? This sophistication might be appropriate in high school or college. The problem is that the professors inject all this cognitive chaos into elementary and middle school.

“Contemporary educators must be prepared to meet the widely varied and individual educational needs of each of the students that enter the classroom.”

The individual need is to do something well.

“Research has shown that when children are introduced to a variety of problem solving methods and strategies, they become more flexible and resourceful in their problem solving abilities (NCTM, 2000).”

The National Council of Teachers of Math seems to favor whatever bewilders the most kids.

“As students gain knowledge of the history of the development of mathematical ideas, they are more likely to view mathematics as a discipline that continues to evolve as people look for faster and more efficient means of calculation in the quest to solve increasingly complicated problems.”

Hokum. These methods are older, slower, and less efficient. That’s obvious. A less obvious problem is that this teacher will spend a career disorienting students with gratuitous confusion.

If you want to see some of this craziness explained on a blackboard, view the famous video by M J McDermott.

Inane propaganda notwithstanding, let’s give respect to history’s verdict. The standard method became standard because it was better and faster. But Reform Math mentions it as little as possible.

Here’s the even bigger giveaway. Our Education Establishment praises automaticitywhen used in a dead-end pedagogy, e.g., memorizing sight-words. But in arithmetic, where automaticity would be helpful, it is scorned. Doesn’t that tell you everything you want to know?

Ruminate on the deplorable decline in math skills throughout this country. Isn’t it time to blame the people in charge? They talk about higher order thinking skills even as children don’t know what 6×7 is.

The pattern throughout modern education is elaborate activity that doesn’t go anywhere. In a phrase, pretend-education.

Reform Math and its guiding principles are flops. Public schools should adopt Saxon Math or Singapore Math. These promote systematic, step-by-step mastery of essential skills.


Supplemental Materials:

CBS NEWS VIDEO about reform math

ARTICLE: Easy Arithmetic For first Graders (the antidote to Reform Math)

ARTICLE AGAINST REFORM MATH: Innumeracy by Design

FACEBOOK PAGE: Parents Against Everyday Math

ARTICLE BY TWO INDIGNANT PARENTS: Reform Math
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Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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2 Responses to Malicious Math Methods Manufacture Mediocrity

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Be sure to watch the embedded video. I don’t watch much TV, so I didn’t know this woman was from my area. But she does a very nice presentation of some of the bad and wasteful ways of teaching math.

    And it occurs to me just why I am a conservative and just why liberals are liberals. I don’t throw out something merely for having the sin of being tried-and-true. But it’s apparent that a “new for new’s sake” mentality infects the Left and much of the education establishment. They would rather teach convoluted methods that are of their own invention than methods that work better but are not theirs.

    Glenn is right when he shows the degree of outright narcissism in this culture. Who wakes up in the morning with the idea of “I’m going to be like Frank Sinatra and do it ‘My Way’ no matter how asinine.” Well, some surely do. But most reasonable people understand that there are time-tested skills and methods that one must first master before one can begin to innovate on one’s own.

    What an emotionally vapid people we have become. And it is the emotional vapidness that is behind all this stupidity of this 60’s generation (and beyond) needing to reinvent the wheel, even if the wheel that they make is square and non-functioning.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Perhaps more people need to read “Aladdin’s Lamp”, especially the incident in which Aladdin loses the lamp with the genie in it because his wife (obviously an early liberal) fell for the “new lamps for old” scam.

      And I must add that I love that alliterative title.

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