Before reading (or rereading) the nebulous banter in “State’s math decline spurs new solutions” (Oct. 13), consider this:
Instructed by a competent teacher, students master mathematics with alacrity. There is not that much math to learn. The essential pre-K-12 sequence moves through addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, proportions, tables, charts, and graphs, proceeding then to algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, statistics and calculus. Students of a competent teacher easily master the fundamental sequence (addition through graphs) and also have little difficulty with algebra I and geometry.
Concepts in the remaining algebra II through calculus sequence are more abstract and require heightened critical pondering. But if proceeding on a strong foundation they are eminently manageable.
The problem students have in succeeding in mathematics is that they are taught by too many incompetent teachers produced in our departments, colleges and schools of education. Education professors are objectionable generally, and mathematics education professors are objectionable specifically.
The “education professor” first appeared on our college and university campuses in the opening decades of the 20th century, as teachers colleges (including the enormously influential Teachers College at Columbia University) replaced normal schools. Finding themselves surrounded by masters of specific disciplines such as mathematics, literature, physics, history, economics, music, etc., education professors had to make a professional place for themselves.
Over the course of succeeding decades, education professors appropriated the name “progressive,” applying the term to an array of approaches variously asserted to be “child-centered” and productive of some social good; the unifying element was a creed vowing that systematically acquired knowledge and skills were not important, because those can always be looked up. Instead, curriculum should be driven by student and teacher interest.
Many decades followed in which local communities, African-Americans migrating northward, and immigrants seeking a substantive education resisted this anti-knowledge doctrine of education professors. But such a creed was in sync with the zeitgeist of the 1960s. From the 1970s forward it has been dominant among teachers trained in departments, colleges and schools of education.
Education professors are the least regarded by colleagues on any campus — mathematics education professors particularly. Not astute at higher mathematics themselves, they pretend to be grand philosophers urging pre-K-5 students toward “metacognition” and other such hyperbolic sophistry, asserting that calculation is a low-level skill that should be superseded by transcendent conceptualization, group projects, and use of manipulatives.
All of this is to make mathematics education professors feel themselves to be profound intellectuals; meanwhile, pre-K-12 students fail to master addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. — and thus lack the foundation necessary to proceed to the algebra-calculus sequence.
Now go back to the Oct. 13 article. You’ll find the same jargon, now appearing with more high-tech references, that long have emanated from the education professorial contingent. The problem with pre-K-12 education generally and mathematics education specifically is that the teachers entering our classrooms from college and university training programs never believed in the Minnesota State Academic Standards or the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, meant to assess academic skills in the manner of the best education systems of the world (those in East Asia and Finland). Our teachers of mathematics persisted with misguided approaches conveyed to them by mathematics education professors, with predictable deleterious results.
Minnesota education commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has deep ties to teacher training programs and to Education Minnesota, with a particularly firm professional connection to the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT). She can always be counted on to create a confusion of verbiage, drawing attention away from knowledge and skill mastery toward more illusory and less measurable results than those effectively tested by objective state and national assessments.
Understanding the insidious ideology of education professors and their acolytes is essential to understanding why we get such wretched academic results year after year, inflicting grave harm on our precious young people.
Gary Marvin Davison is director of the New Salem Educational Initiative in north Minneapolis. He blogs at http://www.newsalemeducation.blogspot.com.