Sunday, June 1, 2008

Walter Williams on 'Fuzzy Math'

American education will never be improved until we address one of the problems seen as too delicate to discuss. That problem is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have graduated with an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admissions tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. As such, they are home to the least able students and professors with the lowest academic respect. Were we serious about efforts to improve public education, one of the first things we would do is eliminate schools of education.

The inability to think critically makes educationists fall easy prey to harebrained schemes, and what's worse, they don't have the intelligence to recognize that the harebrained scheme isn't working. Just one of many examples is the use of fuzzy math teaching techniques found in "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers." Among its topics: "Sweatshop Accounting," "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood," "Multicultural Math" and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." The latter contains discussions on racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media and environmental racism.

If you have a fifth-grader, his textbook might be "Everyday Math." Among its study questions are: If math were a color, it would be (blank) because (blank). If it were a food, it would be (blank) because (blank). If it were weather, it would be (blank) because (blank). All of this is sheer nonsense, and what's worse is that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics sponsors and supports much of this nonsense.

Mathematics, more than any other subject, is culturally neutral. The square root of 16 is 4 whether you're Asian, European or African, or even Plutonian or Martian. While math and science literacy among white 15-year-olds is nothing to write home about, that among black 15-year-olds is nothing less than a disaster.

Few people appreciate the implications of poor math preparation. Mathematics, more than anything else, teaches one how to think logically. As such, it is an important intellectual tool. If one graduates from high school with little or no preparation in algebra, geometry and a bit of trigonometry, he is likely to find whole areas of academic study, as well as the highest paying jobs, hermetically sealed off from him for his entire life.

(An excerpt from 'Academic Slums', by Walter E. Williams, 17 Dec. 2007)


Gerry Rising said...

I may not agree with all of the criticisms of what has come to be called "fuzzy math", but I certainly agree with Williams here. We would do well to remove this kind of pop sociology from any textbook. Sadly, today math texts are strewn with them. Not only are they demeaning to children and teacher alike but they get in the way of the math content that should be taught.