Monday, May 14, 2007

Tired of Everyday Math

I lose a lot of sleep over Everyday Mathematics and I’m very tired. My children are tired too. They give up much of their free time to do extra homework (supplementation with other material) that actually builds the foundation they will need to succeed without a calculator. The effort is certainly worth it, but that doesn't make it any less exhausting. I am beyond frustrated...similar to the process of mourning when you finally get to that acceptance that you must move forward. I'm tired of researching, writing letters, and becoming more and more angry. I'm tired of talking to administrators who either just don't get it or just don't care.

What bothers me most is that our children are inheriting some monumental problems--- global warming, terrorism, and massive national debt, for example. It will be the job of our children’s generation to find a way to make things better. To correct all the errors we made along the way. That takes knowledge, science, engineering, and a strong foundation in mathematics. Ironically, in our hour of greatest need our public schools aren’t giving our children the tools they need to succeed in this huge endeavor. For over two decades these constructivist math curricula have found their way into our classrooms and the damage they are causing has long term consequences for the future of our nation. It’s really that serious. It’s really that important. It's really that timely.

They call this debacle the “math wars” and sadly, a war is certainly what it has become. So much arguing on both sides of the debate, no one willing to admit that an experiment isn’t working out as planned while only the textbook publishers benefit from the bonanza of meaningless standardized testing and curricula that lacks content while our children keep waiting for us to figure the whole mess out. In the meantime, our children lose precious time, precious learning opportunities, and the precious gift of choice. They are robbed of the chance to fulfill dreams and change the world along the way. It is a war, and nobody wins.

Mostly, I am frustrated that curricula like Everyday Mathematics goes against what I teach my children. I’m not just referring to the importance of mastery, quick math fact recall, and agile mental math ability, I’m referring to something much bigger…. WORK ETHIC. Our children will need to work harder, smarter and better than their international peers to succeed in the global economy. What does Everyday Mathematics teach them? Don’t worry about long division or complicated multiplication, just use a calculator. In fact, we think calculators are so important that we’ll teach your kindergartner how to use one. Math should always be fun and games, we shouldn't submit them to ‘rote memorization’ (drill and kill). That’s too boring, that’s too traditional, that’s just a waste of creative time that could be used for discovery. Well, guess what? Sometimes work is fun, but sometimes work is work and you just have to bear down and do something until you get it right. Like learning to add, subtract, multiply and divide effortlessly, accurately, and efficiently.

In The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century in a chapter entitled “The Quiet Crisis”, Thomas L. Friedman says it much better than I ever could:

I am not suggesting that we militarize education, but I am suggesting that we do more to push our young people to go beyond their comfort zones, to do things right, and to be ready to suffer some short-run pain for longer gain. --Thomas L. Friedman

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