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June 26, 2005

Eth-no-math

There's not much mathematics in the new math, writes Diane Ravitch in the Opinion Journal. First came "innocent dumbing down."

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 "contemporary mathematics" textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter "F" included factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions and functions. In the 1998 book, the index listed families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises and fund-raising carnival.
Now "critical theorists" are politicizing math instruction.
One of its precepts is "ethnomathematics," that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics -- the mathematics taught in universities around the world -- is the property of Western civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans and other "nonmainstream" cultures.

. . . A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, sex, ethnicity and community.

That's not how math is taught in Singapore, Korea or other countries whose students outscore ours in international math tests, Ravitch points out. "They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago."

Update: Darren, who still teaches about Train A and Train B traveling toward each other at different speeds, doesn't think it matters which ethnic group's members first thought up the Pythagorean theorem. Read the comments too.

Update II: That 1998 "contemporary mathematics" textbook has two indexes, according to someone who emailed Kevin Drum's Political Animal site. The Evers-Clopton list comes from "contexts" not "mathematical topics," which lists: "Faces, Face-views (3-D drawing), Finding equations (using points, using regression, using situation, using slope and intercept), Five-number summary, Formula (area, perimeter, surface area), Four-color problem, Fractal, Fractional exponents, Frequency table, Front view (3-D drawing), and Function."

Posted by joannej at June 26, 2005 11:04 AM

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If you scroll down a little bit you will find a post on how students are coming out of high school unprepared for college and must take remedial work in college. Now we know part of the problem, at least as it concerns student inability to do math.

This is the stupidest thing I have ever read. I spent 15 years as an engineer, I have spent the last 7 years as a teacher of physics and math and I can tell you there is no such thing as ethno-math. Math is math. Has anyone who comes up with these bullsh*t ideas actually talk to people like engineers, physicists, professors of mathematics who actually use math?

I have an old text book from 1972 for Geometry. It is smaller in both physical dimensions and in number of pages than the book I use to teach summer school geometry and yet it actually covers more topics and has more appendices since there were no calculators and it needed to have the logarithms and the sine, cosine and tangents of angles. No multicultural stuff, no superflous pictures, just how to do and learn geometry.

This is the text I would have used or maybe the next edition when I took geometry back in 1974 and I learned enough critical thinking in my math classes to be an aerospace engineer involved in conceptual aircraft design.

This kind of thing makes me worried about the our ability as a country in the future. We have students who will not be able to get through engineering and science programs in college. I can actually see a day when colleges may have to dumb down the requirements to get an engineering degree and then God help us.

Posted by: Jeff_H [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 01:27 PM

That is okay. All of those American students will feel good about themselves and can practice real math while they work in their 20's for all those Chinese, Indian, Singaporean and Hong Kong kids who own the Starbucks and McDonalds where they will be working.

Also they can use their math skills while figuring out how many shots of Ketel One and Vaurnet sunglasses they can afford while not paying Mom and Dad rent and still living at home in their 30s.

Hope they enjoyed their 8th grade graduation walk!

Posted by: Bob Diethrich [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 02:30 PM

As I said in my own post on this article, the credit card company will not care how "your people" represent numbers.

The saddest bit is that those who can least afford junk math are the ones who have it imposed on them. I was taught much of my math at home (though they taught regular math at school, too... we learned long division, etc., though perhaps we were the last class to do so). So I guess the white and Asian kids will get actual math, and others will get non-math politicizing -- all in the name of multicultural anti-racism (sure).

I wonder who will be better off in the long run? That's a rhetorical question, of course.

Posted by: meep [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 02:50 PM

"I guess the white and Asian kids will get actual math"

Not for long. The Europpressive must be "sensitized" in every subject.

My nomination for worst phrase in that article is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Replace "Chicanos" with "Caucasians" (or any other racial/ethnic name) to see why.

On my blog, I propose "Communist Counting" in the name of diversity:

http://www.amritas.com/050702.htm#06261739

Posted by: Amritas [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 03:54 PM

Actually, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers" appears not to be a textbook, but rather a collections of essays about how mathematics should be taught. (Hopefully, this will never come to pass.)

The web site for the book is here:
http://www.rethinkingschools.org/publication/math/

Posted by: LTEC [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 04:40 PM

At $16.95 it's certainly not a textbook.

Posted by: allen [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 05:29 PM

Ha, ha! Not an *American* textbook, anyway. $16.95 won't cover all the pictures needed to illustrate "diversity."

My version of the book would be a slip of paper with two sentences: What's the color of math? There is none.

Posted by: Amritas [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 07:42 PM

Students in New York State are required to pass two state Regents tests in Math, with Regents in other subjects, to graduate with a high school diploma. The state didn't used to have this requirement, schools were allowed to give alternate diplomas to those who were unable to complete a Regents courseload. Since the state made this change a few years ago, they have had to consistently re-grade the tests, effectively curving them upwards to ensure that the right number of students passed. For last years Biology exam, a passing grade of 55 percent was achieved by correctly answering 35-40 percent of the questions. I'm going to be student teaching Biology in an inner city high school this coming year, and I have to say with a certain sick humor that these statistics comfort me. If I decide I don't want to bother teaching, I'll just stop and most will probably pass.

Posted by: SuperSub [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 08:52 PM

This is pretty funny. I thought of buying a copy for my father-in-law, who's a rather short-tempered biology professor with a habit of throwing books at students. But there probably isn't enough heft to it, alas!

Posted by: ragnarok [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 08:55 PM

As a country and as a people, we hate ourselves. Remember the people that wanted Elian Gonzalez returned to Castro's utopia because the thought of little Elian wearing Reeboks and Levis caused them to foam at the mouth? Susan Sontag wrote that white people are the scourge of the earth. Only the intelligentsia seems to be afflicted with this disease. There is probably a fair amount of guilt involved in the self-loathers' attempts to villify everything American and Western, but it has gelled into a rabid and blinding rage that borders on madness. I suspect a scientific inquiry into the psychology of such leftist proponents of culture destruction would reveal that leftist ideology in America is a political outgrowth of dysfunctional personalities and deep-seated mental pathologies. This is why I've come to feel conflicted about encouraging kids to attend university, especially if they want to take humanities, but now the disease is infecting math and science. Why don't we just nuke ourselves out of existence?

Posted by: BadaBing [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2005 10:56 PM

First of all, I admit that I don't pay much attention to math texts unless one happens to get left in my room and I need to return it somewhere, but most of them have looked pretty full of math problems to me. As far as I can tell, my daughter's teachers haven't used a text book -- they designed their own curriculum -- and she is doing fine according to the usual measures. I know the sky IS falling because of the iniquity of public teaching, but it hasn't hit yet.

Secondly, SuperSub, you need to get off these negative websites if you are just going into student teaching and making statements like that. Your students are NOT their test grades. For as long as they are in your classroom, they are your children. You are to believe in them, fiercely and passionately. Assess where they are at and design your lessons to move them along as far as you can possibly get them. They will defy you, disapoint you, and bring you to tears. Some will take that belief you have in them and remember it forever. Some will fail in life and some will soar, but remember, you can't predict which ones will soar, and it is often the ones you thought would never make it. So treat them all like they're the ones who are going to make it. You'll never regret that. You will regret every kid you give up on. Your job is to teach. If you are using that fucking test as an excuse to give up on your kids, you're in the wrong business.

Posted by: RCC [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 08:17 AM

" ...admit that I don't pay much attention to math texts unless one happens to get left in my room and I need to return it somewhere, but most of them have looked pretty full of math problems to me.

There is a major problem in K-8 math, but you have looked at a few textbooks and they "looked pretty full of math problems". Is this all it takes to judge whether a curriculum is proper or not? My son's Everyday Math workbooks look like they are "full of math problems", but EM is not adequate and will guarantee that many kids will be ill-prepared for college prep math in high school without outside parental or tutoring help.

" As far as I can tell, my daughter's teachers haven't used a text book -- they designed their own curriculum -- and she is doing fine according to the usual measures. "

"Usual measures"? You know, our town's schools are rated as "high performing" even though there is a large percentage of students that do not meet the state's trivially low expectations. There is no guarantee that any of the kids that rate highly on these tests will be prepared for college prep math.

"I know the sky IS falling because of the iniquity of public teaching, but it hasn't hit yet."

"Iniquity?" def: "Grievous violation of right or justice; wickedness."

Is this by the schools or to the schools? Guess which one I would choose given that K-8 schools use curricula that are completely inadequate (while ignoring outside professional help) and close many doors before the child gets to high school?


"Secondly, SuperSub, you need to get off these negative websites if you are just going into student teaching and making statements like that."

Negative web sites? Are we all (including teachers) supposed to be cheerleaders for the state of public education? All blogs are prone to excessive ranting, but Joanne's site is a place where many can discuss these problems and advocate for real change, like charter schools and full vouchers.

"Your students are NOT their test grades."

The students' futures are their test grades! It doesn't matter how happy or well-adjusted the kids are if they are improperly educated. Just don't tell me that it is OK to do poorly on these tests because there is "other" knowledge they know.

"Assess where they are at and design your lessons to move them along as far as you can possibly get them."

This is great, but how about making a big stink about how schools let kids slide grade to grade without mastering their basic arithmetic facts. If you are a sixth grade teacher, are you supposed to be happy just trying to do the best you can when the kids don't know what 7 times 6 is? The teacher should be complaining very loudly that many people are not doing their jobs properly. Wasting time on bringing socially promoted kids up to speed directly hurts the better students and lowers expectations. Just don't start telling me about "differentiated learning".

"If you are using that fucking test as an excuse to give up on your kids, you're in the wrong business."

Apparently you can't detect blatant sarcasm. If not, then what's your problem? As a parent, I am really pissed off that my son cannot get the same level of education I had in public schools when I was growing up. The teachers at our schools are all very nice, but their curriculum (they really don't have one) sets low and fuzzy expectations. Talk about iniquity. Public schools guarantee that kids will be inadequately prepared for college prep courses in high school without outside help. And people wonder why there is a correlation between parental education level and the success of children at school.

Posted by: Steve [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 10:19 AM

To the person who thinks math texts are full of math problems, be aware that some math programs like TERC's Investigations in Number, Data and Space, doesn't have a math text.

Also, as an example of the type of math being taught these days, here is a suggested activity from the web pages of NCTM's web site itself, in a section called “Illuminations”. They present a problem to be worked on:
"Suppose you have saved $63. You find a used video game system that you would like to buy. The seller is asking $180 . You earn $10 a week doing odd jobs. How long will it take you to earn enough money to buy the game?”
This type of problem has been around forever, but what is different now is that the problem is presented as a class or team activity. Students talk over solutions and then present how they solved the problem to the class. The other thing that's different is that students do not necessarily understand how to perform long division or even to recognize when division should be used. In the discussion of the activity for this problem, NCTM explains that adults typically use a “standard” strategy by subtracting 63 from 180 and dividing by 10. While this would be a preferred approach for students to have mastered by the 5th or 6th grade–the grade level for this activity–NCTM describes with particular pride a student entering 63 into the calculator (no apology offered for calculators being used here), then adding his first week’s allowance, then the second, third, and so forth until the display showed that he had at least $180 (12 weeks).
They then explain: "Allowing students the freedom to use strategies that are intuitively obvious to them helps them to feel more comfortable in the problem-solving process. At some stage it also helps them appreciate the efficiency of standard algorithms." NCTM does not discuss when this stage will occur. One would hope that it occurs quickly so that the calculator-aided counting-on-fingers method can be supplanted with the more efficient method that students in Japan and Singapore have mastered by the third grade.

Posted by: Barry [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 10:47 AM

Steve-
Thanks for explaining to RCC the point of sarcasm.

RCC-
One, this is not a negative website. We all share views, both positive and negative, here. Second, as with any workplace, there can be a focus on negativity among peers... its called blowing off steam.
As for my plans for my classes this year, I don't ever plan to give up an any of them. There's plenty wrong with the education system in NY, and my attitude for this year and every future year is to be the wall between the kids and stupidity in the system. While I want them to do well on tests for their future success, I plan on going as far beyond the level of the test as I can. If I need to work individually with slow or bright students to maximize their potential, I will.
So I'll say the same thing to you that I tell my students (and causes them to look at me weird):
CHILL.

Posted by: SuperSub [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 11:01 AM

Steve,
The "usual measures" I am talking about are all those national norm-referenced tests -- what's that company in Texas that sells all those to the districts? ETS? I can't remember off the top of my head, but the Terra Nova is one.

I know the definition of iniquity. That's why I used the word!

Real teaching consists of 1) knowing where your students are at (through proper assessment) 2) and designing lessons that take them from that point to the furthest point you can get them to. It does not consist of wasting time bitching about how low they are or who didn't teach them what. Total waste of time and energy (unless you are on the curriculum committee and in a place to do something about it). It is not OK to do poorly on the tests. But I have seen burned out teacher after burned out teacher give up or go through the motions because they know the kids are so far behind by the time they get them, what's the point? I don't want to hear that even articulated with sarcasm by a pre-service teacher. The young teachers are the ones who come in and set the world on fire and inspire and challenge the veterans.

Yes, I do sit on curriculum committees and I do know how to align to national and state tests (including the SAT/ACT and Advanced Placement test in my content area). We work K-12 to make sure each grade lays down the proper foundation for the next. We don't have a lot of control over kids who come in from out of district mid-stream, etc., but we monitor very closely our results.

Further more, believing in my kids with all I have has nothing to do with how you use the word self-esteem. I believe that they can do the work. I had a kid a few years ago who teased me that I was hurting his self-esteem because I gave him a B on his paper. I told him his self-esteem wasn't my problem and didn't interest me so much as his ability to write clearly. The kids thought this was a hoot, and the superintendant still laughs at me about it since the kid happened to be the child of a school board member.

Every year I end up re-designing parts of my courses because the kids come in with different sets of strengths and weaknesses. That's part of what makes the job interesting. I'd have to shoot myself if I taught the same exact content year after year. My top kids (the ones who end up at the top colleges) are as strong now as they ever were. The bottom kids are getting lower, mostly because the remedial course is mostly populated with kids from a state institution -- and the institution is not holding on to the most dysfunctional kids during the day like they used to. This introduces new problems, like how to teach kids who are insanely drugged up just to keep them non-violent, or how to teach 17-year-olds with several children or for whom we can only find school records covering 4 or 5 years (they were out running drugs for their parents instead of in school), but I'd rather spend my time solving these problems than complaining about them. Because, yeah, I know that kid who was only in school for 4 years of his life is never going to pass the state test, and I know that's going to show up on my records as a teacher, but I did push him to the very limits of his abilities. I hope that's what SuperSub does with his biology students.

Posted by: RCC [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 11:06 AM

We've posted the 'f-word' page Ravitch is discussing at Kitchen Table Math.

Posted by: Catherine [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 12:34 PM

RCC-
"But I have seen burned out teacher after burned out teacher give up or go through the motions because they know the kids are so far behind by the time they get them, what's the point? I don't want to hear that even articulated with sarcasm by a pre-service teacher."
Doesn't sound like an apology for going crazy in response to what I said. As for not wanting it heard, get over it. It was said, and in sarcasm so your previous line of attack is wrong. As for "pre-service teacher," is that a knock on my inexperience or do you feel that all new teachers should enter the field with naive exuberance? I have no doubts that I will be tried many, many times through my career and in ways that I have never thought possible, but I made the choice to enter the field because I am (here's what naive optomism I do have) committed to educating and improving the lives of students. So, I'm pretty sure that I'm allowed a sarcastic comment or two.

Posted by: SuperSub [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 05:03 PM

The Left will stop at nothing to promote their crazy philosophies...and now, math and science is no longer immune to political indoctrination. Useful idiocy isn't just found in the Sociology dept. anymore.....

Posted by: nailsagainsttheboard [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2005 06:04 PM

SuperSub, I'm glad you were only sarcastic. I wish you all the best. As for "pre-service teacher," um, that's what you are. That's not a knock. I work with with pre-service teachers (my interns and student teachers). In my observation, the best pre-service teachers come in with energy and optimism. The ones that never made it in the profession (and did some spectacularly dumb things to get themselves booted out), came in knowing it all and jaded. YMMV. Good luck, and enjoy the ride. It's a doozy :).

Posted by: RCC [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 07:33 AM

"At $16.95 it's certainly not a textbook."

I think it is. There is a website here http://www.wmich.edu/cpmp/ that
discusses it.

From the web site:

The CPMP curriculum is published by
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill under the title
Contemporary Mathematics in Context: A Unified
Approach. The U.S. Department of Education
recognized Contemporary Mathematics in Context
as an Exemplary Mathematics Program. Of 61
programs reviewed by the U.S. Department of
Education Expert Panel on Mathematics, only
five programs received the highest designation
of "exemplary."

Posted by: Mark Roulo [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 06:49 PM

Mark Roulo wrote:

I think it is.

You're entitled to your opinion of course but in view of the grossly inflated pricing that's common practice in the textbook industry a $16.95 textbook comes under the heading of "extraordinary claims". I don't think that claims to the exemplary nature of the book by the generating agency meet the standard of "extraodinary proof" required by extraordinary claims.

Posted by: allen [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2005 08:19 PM

Eth-no-math is an old concept indeed. The Nazis started it in the 1930s, with their "Aryan history", leading to "Aryan math and science".

Posted by: Beeman [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2005 09:34 AM

Mark: "I think it is."

Allen: "You're entitled to your opinion of course but in view of the grossly inflated pricing that's common practice in the textbook industry a $16.95 textbook comes under the heading of 'extraordinary claims'."

The web site also provides a link to reports
from some districts using the book/program.
Here: http://www.wmich.edu/cpmp/districtreports.html

If they charged more (say $50?) would that make
it a textbook? Or am I missing something obvious?

Posted by: Mark Roulo [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2005 10:32 AM

Mark Roulo wrote:

If they charged more (say $50?) would that make
it a textbook?

Yes.

Or am I missing something obvious?

Yes.

Posted by: allen [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 30, 2005 12:00 PM

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