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November 15, 2005

"Constructivist math" is making idiots of our kids

Reason to homeschool #271835.

The New York Times reports that parents are finally starting to notice that the latest educational fad, "constructivist" math, is producing kids who are barely able to survive without a calculator. Some excerpts:
LAST spring, when he was only a sophomore, Jim Munch received a plaque honoring him as top scorer on the high school math team here. He went on to earn the highest mark possible, a 5, on an Advanced Placement exam in calculus. His ambition is to become a theoretical mathematician.

So Jim might have seemed the veritable symbol for the new math curriculum installed over the last seven years in this ambitious, educated suburb of Rochester. Since seventh grade, he had been taking the "constructivist" or "inquiry" program, so named because it emphasizes pupils' constructing their own knowledge through a process of reasoning.

Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless memorization.

"My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program," Jim said recently. "Whatever I've achieved, I've achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us."

[...] The dispute is fundamental. To its advocates, constructivist math applies the subject to the real world, builds critical thinking and rescues classes from numbing repetition.

But to those parents in Penfield and elsewhere - who have children in junior high unable to do long division or multiply two-column numbers, who pay for private tutors or sessions at traditionalist learning centers like Kumon, who wonder why there are so many calculators and so few textbooks - the words of a recent graduate to the Board of Education ring tragically true.

"My biggest fear about going to college," Samantha Meek said at a meeting last spring, "is attending introductory math courses. How am I going to be able to explain to my professors that I do not understand what they are talking about, that I do not have the same math background as the rest of the students, and that I cannot do mental math and can barely do it with pencil and paper?"
The whole article is worth the read. You know the "progressives" have gone too far when the NYT gives favorable coverage to their critics.

Not that they will be deterred by veiled criticism from their media allies. Even if your school hasn't yet embraced the constructivist math fad, bear in mind that the educational elites appear to have thoroughly bought into it, so don't let your guard down.

(Credit: EIA via Right Mind)


SystemsDude said...

Public schools strike again.

It's funny that the "fear of introductory math" is the major concern of the college-bound girl.

1) "Fear of math" - When we have instilled fear into that which we need to advance technology, we're finished.

2) Did anybody else wonder why if she can't do simple math, why does she even harbor the idea of college? I certainly seem to remember math as part of a college entrance exam. Or have we dropped colege entrance requirements so low that the inability to perform simple math is not a disqualifier?

Adding this to this list of rants concerning the state of public education in this country...

Cliff Brown said...

I sell plastic beads in my store. Yesterday a girl picked up a pack of 500 and asked the price so I said $2. She said that $2 is too much for a pack of beads. Then she picked up a pack of 200 and asked the price so I said $1. She bought two small packs.

Tim said...

systemdude -

The problem is that students don't know that they don't know it until they encounter real math in college. I remember getting a respectable B in trigonometry in high school, and then having to take it all over again in college before I could get into calculus.

I didn't fear it; I Just Didn't Like It. :-)

Tim said...

cliff -

That's a sad story, but I'll bet you wish you had more customers like her!

Cliff Brown said...

There are retailers who pray on stupid people but there is a danger. Stupid people are more likely to steel.