By Bruce Deitrick : A METHOD TO THEIR MAYHEM : Only in the last year have I realized that the tactics devised to sabotage reading had an exact parallel in the techniques used to undermine mathematics. A disturbing thought. You have to grapple with the vision of our Education Establishment working across a wide front to ensure that students won’t learn very much in any discipline.
How do they go about this? First, the experts announce that the old approaches are hopelessly inadequate. That was basically the attack launched against “dear old phonics” back in the 1930s. The second thing they say is that they have analyzed the subject More Profoundly Than Anyone Before in History and have come up with a Higher, Purer Pedagogy. For example, the best way to learn English words is to memorize their shapes (which is in fact the worst way). So the educators claim intellectual advances; but in practice, as history abundantly shows, most children are carried steadily backward.
Similarly, in the 1960s our elite educators rethought math instruction and came up with something called New Math. The old ways, they said, were tired and inadequate. Only New Math could prepare children for the demands of the space age. In practice, however, New Math rendered children mathematically stunted, just as Whole Word rendered them illiterate.
New Math’s basic gimmick was to stir in college-level terms and perspectives, and to claim that little children would become skilled at math by working with these sophisticated approaches. Simultaneously, educators reduced the emphasis on basics, so that children didn’t master multiplication or even subtraction. The main results were heightened confusion, tearful frustration, and lower math scores.
New Math was properly ridiculed and soon discarded. However, the top educators were not defeated; they were regrouping. Around 1990 they came up with a dozen new math programs, the official title for which is Reform Math. However, these have all been collectively and sarcastically titled New New Math. To a remarkable degree, the new programs use the same tricks already mentioned plus some new ones: children should discover even the simplest things for themselves (that’s the essence of constructivism); they should work in groups (cooperative learning); and they must use the calculator a lot. The result is that each child is carefully wrapped in six layers of separation from ordinary arithmetic competence.
The best-known Reform Math programs are TERC, Everyday Mathematics, Connected Math, Chicago Math, and MathLand. MathLand became so notorious that it is no longer published. Score one for common sense. My impression is that all of these programs are worthless and dangerous.
Why so many similar programs? I suspect the Education Establishment wanted to divide and confuse the public. One of the strategies our faux-educators use is to swamp the intellectual landscape with a thousand puzzling details, and to make communities argue over each one, so that parents finally give up and stop caring that their kids can’t count!
So let me start fresh by pointing out the obvious: the best way to teach EVERYTHING is to begin with small, simple stuff that young children can pleasurably learn and master (e.g., 1 + 2 = 3). Then you build upward from that foundation toward somewhat more difficult items (e.g., 2 x 3 = 6). And so on. You don’t start with big, vague, sweeping, or complicated things. You don’t “spiral” on to new material until all the students have mastered the previous lessons. Momentum is the goal. Confidence is perhaps the single most important ingredient for success.
Notice that our educators do everything the wrong way. They start with complex stuff and utterly destroy confidence. This is the detail to stay focused on. It tells you the people responsible for New New Math are not sincerely trying to teach math.
Let us suppose that the aforementioned sophisticated perspectives do have their place in a student’s education. Okay, fine. But surely the fifth and sixth grades are time enough to mention ideas that previously were never taught until late high school or college. But these maniac educators (both in New Math and Reform Math) want to drop big concepts on the heads of six-year-olds who can’t even add! Furthermore, thanks to the dictates of Constructivism (see #34), students must figure out everything for themselves. The resulting pedagogy is preposterous. It’s as though I want to teach you to drive by taking you out on a salt flat, tell you to accelerate the car up to 200 mph, and then begin explaining how to handle turns and control skids. The only sensible response is: ARE YOU INSANE???? I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STEER YET.
One wonderfully grotesque theme that runs through all these programs is that the educators refuse to teach the standard ways of doing anything. The multiplication you probably know, the long division you learned in school, these are taboos, the math that dare not speak its name. Instead, little children must learn awkward and confusing “algorithms” that their parents will not be able to understand. The “lattice method,” for example, surely qualifies as child abuse (or torture, as the New York Times uses that term). A leading math educator actually said: “Everyone needs at least two ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide efficiently and accurately.” To which the correct answer is, “Nonsense!” Think of all the time that will be wasted trying to achieve this double and triple proficiency, and all the mental confusion that will dog “everyone” forever.
In essence, New Math, New New Math and Reform Math might best be called Mediocre Math, whereby all children are collected at the same low level and kept there forever. What could be fairer?