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Curriculum Letter to the Editor

Other Perspectives on ‘Anti-Knowledge’ Math

October 17, 2008 2 min read
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To the Editor:

In her Commentary on the “anti-knowledge movement” and its impact on mathematics teaching, Jo Boaler uses as a case study what she describes as “a [California] school that had changed the math approach it used for years with poor results, to one that engaged students more actively in their math learning” (“Where Has All the Knowledge Gone?,” Oct. 8, 2008). But by not naming the school, she continues a pattern of reporting her preconceptions and perceptions as historically accurate. The school is one of three—the pseudonymously named Greendale, to be specific—that she wrote about when she was a professor at Stanford University. (“Study: Teacher-Designed Math Curriculum Is Effective,” Feb. 16, 2005.)

The fact of the matter is that the school was doing very well academically (including in mathematics) until it imposed the Interactive Mathematics Program on all its students. Outrage among parents was great, and the best math teachers left. Although the move was strongly resisted by the school, eventually real math was allowed as an option for certain students and, eventually, for all. Subsequently, only eight students chose IMP, and it was phased out entirely. The damage to the mathematics component of the school, however, still reverberates.

Wayne Bishop

Professor of Mathematics

California State University-Los Angeles

Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

How dare Jo Boaler accuse parents opposed to reform math of being “anti-knowledge?”

I oppose such instruction because I have seen what it has done to my child. I have two kids, one following a traditional math program and the younger being taught the Investigations curriculum developed by TERC, a math, science, and technology education organization. I have to teach the second child at home to maintain his math knowledge, because he gets confused by all the ways his teachers ask him to add things up when he used to be able to do it in his head.

The level of mathematics in these programs is ridiculous. My son is very bored, and because of the teachers’ huge involvement in “facilitating,” they can’t take care of the brighter students.

The details of the school that Ms. Boaler claims was ruined by the anti-knowledge movement are hard to verify without specifics—its name, for example.

Opponents of fuzzy math are not organized other than by school district. This battle is being fought at the local level with no funding of any kind and no central organization.

I can’t believe Ms. Boaler received a National Science Foundation grant to peddle this nonsense. It is academically devoid of any valid content.

Edmund Page

Haymarket, Va.

A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week as Other Perspectives on ‘Anti-Knowledge’ Math

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