Yes, believe it or not, the ideological wars can be brought to the teaching of mathematics.? So argues a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, Tonya Bartell, in an article she's written for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:? Learning to Teach Mathematics for Social Justice: Negotiating Social Justice and Mathematical Goals.? According to the abstract,
This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. A situated, sociocultural perspective of learning guides this examination of teachers' negotiation of mathematical goals and social justice goals as they developed, implemented, and revised lessons for social justice.
In fact, as Stern has written, teaching social justice through math is a well-practiced craft among certain mathematics teachers.?? Eric Gutstein, a Marxist education professor at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public-school math teacher, wrote Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice a while ago (Routledge, 2006)? The work combines, says Stern, "critical pedagogy theory (which depicts the United States as an evil nation rife with injustice) and real-life math lessons that Gutstein piloted with his predominantly minority seventh-grade students."
The question is, do kids learn any math?? Here's what Ms. Bartell writes,
Education is intricately linked to economic, political, and social power structures in society that serve to perpetuate inequity in both schools
Of the many theories that have overtaken educational policy and practice, few have been as influential as the belief that every child learns in his or her own way (see Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983, which set the ?one size fits all? world on fire).? Just as ?rote memorization? has been booted from school houses, so ?customized learning? has become a battle cry for modern pedagogical movements like child-centered classrooms, schools of one, individualized instruction, ad infinitum, so to speak..... ? As Mike Petrilli wrote in his Education Next piece on differentiated instruction earlier this year,
The greatest challenge facing America's schools today isn't the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or ?teacher quality.? It's the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.
Thanks to a wonderful report by Patti Neighmond in today's Morning Edition (National Public Radio), we may get back on the path of common sense in our approach to the "enormous variation" challenge.? Reports Neighmond, a new meta-study (a study of studies), by University of South Florida psychologist Doug Rohrer, suggests that that there's no scientific evidence to show that? the learning style movement has done anything for student learning.? Rohrer tells Neighmond,
We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these [learning style practices]?? and until such evidence exists we don't recommend that they be used.
No doubt, we'll hear from
Excuse the pun, but here we go again.? News out of New York is that Gotham's public schools will ?mandate sex education? (how not to have sex, why not to have it, or to have it safely, whatever).? The city's schools don't have a history curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum, but? by golly, they shall have Sex Education 101, 2, 3, etc. (I exaggerate, but not by much).
In fact, the most telling line in Fernando Santos' and Anna Phillips' front page New York Times story this morning is buried inside the paper, a third of the way through:
It is also unusual because the city does not often tell schools what to teach.
What is it about sex?? For some reason schools chancellor Dennis Walcott feels ?a responsibility? to impose sex education, as he tells the Times. So, why doesn't he feel the same responsibility about literature, mathematics, geography, art, music, science?
From the Times we learn that ?high schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years.?? But wait, the next sentence reads, ?In the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them.?
You can't make this stuff up.
Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is an important subject that is rarely treated properly; i.e. as a symptom, not a disease.? Symptom of what?? Most of the subtext of the Times story assumes that teen pregnancy is caused by a deficit of knowledge about sex -- you don't
Jeff Smink's New York Times essay, ?This is Your Brain on Summer,? about summer learning loss, makes me think of my childhood summers in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, where I am now vacationing. ?Our summers then (a few decades ago) began in late May, when we were let out of school to help bring in the local strawberry crop.? I can't recall if there was an age limit, but seven-years-old was not too early to begin your summer job, especially if you had older brothers and sisters to lift you aboard the flatbed trucks (or the idled yellow school buses chartered by some of the farmers). ?It helped that some of the same people who worked in the schools were there to chaperone our endeavors -- these were field trips with a purpose. Our mother was up at 4:30, making sack lunches, would wake us at 5, feed us our Cheerios or pancakes, and hot chocolate, and hustle us out the door by 5:30 to meet the truck (or bus), a half mile away. ?We worked the fields, generally, four to six hours a day, four or five days a week for four to six weeks.? We had fun ? and made some money. After the strawberries were harvested, the taller kids among us ? those who could reach five foot high ? would help bring in the string bean crop.? That took you through August. ?Back to school
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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