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Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

20:00
Ten myths of mathematics education 

Courtesy of MathForge, I've found out about the budding debate on mathematics education between Mathematically Correct and NCTM.

I have to confess to a bit of prejudice against the Mathematically Correct people, less on substance than on the fact that many of the advocates lack people skills and tend towards absolutism.

And it's really that last part that really gets to me: It's the overwhelming belief on the part of the Mathematically Correct that there is one right way to teach mathematics. Perhaps this isn't really what the membership believes, but it does seem to be how many of the members come across.

The other part of Mathematically Correct (as I've been lead to perceive it) which tends to prejudice me against its stance is that they seem to want to return to a mythical golden age of mathematics education (much like there is a desire to return to some sort of mythical golden age of American society among many conservatives). The problem is that the golden age wasn't so golden and mathematical education has always been problematic. The existence of a class called "College Algebra" at my high school 20 years ago testifies to a point in time when Algebra was indeed a college freshman-level subject (albeit one which was a bit more in depth than the algebra that I teach now). Yes, mathematics education has been trend-driven but then so has just about everything else in the history of civilization. Don't let anyone try and tell you otherwise. Doubtless the ancient Mesopotamian elders decried the spread of whatever the latest trend in clay tablet baking was among the younger clay tablet bakers.

But let's get on to the myths. Here are the myths as presented by Mathematically Correct and NYCHold. I'll be talking about each of these in a separate post (with manipulated dates and times so that they appear each in their own post in a sensible order below). Doing a long multi-part series like this is a bit exhausting, and I'm not too happy with some of the distortions that ecto is introducing into my formatting, so I'm going to do this 2 at a time over the next week or so.

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