Debate Over Math Methods Continues
> 11/15/2006 10:16:56 AM

It's hardly a surprise that American students score considerably lower on standard math tests than those in competing countries like India and most of East Asia. This trend does not bode well for the future of technical industry in our country, and everyone in education agrees that math programs in our schools warrant critical review. The long-standing issue for debate is exactly how to rectify the issue and make for increased mathematical proficiency on the part of American students. 

Two clear sides emerge on this issue: those who believe that basic computation methods need to be hammered into students' heads through rigorous repetition and those who think that the same kids will be more likely to retain the pertinent information if allowed to solve problems on their own time and more fully explore the nature of each involved process. Many professional mathematicians argue that a decade of this reform math -labeled "fuzzy math" by its many critics- is directly responsible for the poor performance of our country's school kids. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, a nationwide advocacy organization, believes that much of the traditional K-12 math regimen is being rendered obsolete by technology and is therefore not relevant to most modern-day jobs. Others say that this perspective is akin to dismissing the importance of manual addition and subtraction skills after the invention of the calculator.

The fact is that, in order to solve basic math problems, students need to memorize the standard forms of computation, and though they will most likely not need to use algebra to solve daily problems at work, the process of learning these techniques leaves the brain better prepared for different forms of problem-solving. According to a recent New York Times article, an increasing number of parents concerned about the shortcomings of this reform math have chosen to educate their children with independent math tutors. Even the NCTM revised their position this year. Though they still hold the position that strictly traditional instruction may "stifle the creativity" of students, they now advocate a return to a "tighter focus" on basic skills and the idea of quick recall abilities. It's true that memorizing answers does not always lead to more refined computation skills. But the issue is more complex than that, and grasping the "concept" of long division problems will also probably not help students perform up to par on standardized math tests. It would seem that the reform math experiment has failed on many counts, and if we want our collective scores to compete with those of emerging technological and economic powers like China, we will have to reinforce the system that served our students for so long.


People don't understand the importance of either math or logic courses. Learning the rules of problem-solving of algebra, and the method of constructing a proof of a geometric theory, are an easy way to teach people critical reasoning skills.I majored in engineering in college, with a minor in philosophy. I had accidentally signed up for a 400-level PHIL course I hadn't taken the prereq's for, and was thinking about dropping it. Speaking with the prof, though, he commented on how engineers usually do very well in philosophy, due to learning the methodology of constructing arguments from the methodology of solving other problems.The "old math" worked. I don't have a clue why they changed it.
Posted by: Brad Warbiany 11/29/2006 6:43:34 AM

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