To the Editor:
Regarding T.C. O’Brien’s Commentary about the ongoing “math wars” between reformers and anti-reformers (“Mathematics and the Pure in Heart,” Feb. 28, 2007):
It’s ironic that many of the Asian countries anti-reformers hold up as pinnacles of mathematics education are actually shifting away from drills and direct instruction and toward a more inquiry-based approach that promotes creativity and the use of technology.
I spend a fair amount of time working on mathematics technology and other education issues in Asia. While differences exist between countries, I see educational leaders there working toward a system that encourages originality, critical thinking, activity-based learning, and problem-solving.
How sad that the mainstream U.S. mathematics community, which pioneered many of the ideas catching hold in Asia, must waste time defending against those pushing an approach that countries across the globe are realizing does not work.
We are creeping backward, and our students are suffering. Mr. O’Brien is right: Memorizing mathematical facts and tables won’t do students any good if they don’t learn how to use them to solve real-world problems.
I fear for our future, should the anti-reformers win the math wars. Maybe the United States will rank first in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study the same year that Asian countries decide such a narrowly defined instrument doesn’t make any sense with respect to promoting the creative application of knowledge—and abandon the TIMSS race en masse.
Key Curriculum Press
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2007 edition of Education Week as Math’s ‘Anti-Reformers’ Misread Asian Competitors