Saturday, June 20, 2009

Teaching Students to Hate Mathematics

S dM sends this link.

An excerpt....

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soulcrushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Everyone knows that something is wrong. The politicians say, “we need higher standards.” The schools say, “we need more money and equipment.” Educators say one thing, and teachers say another. They are all wrong. The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students. They say, “math class is stupid and boring,” and they are right.

My elder son, Kevin, is a math major. And he likes math. Fortunately, he largely lives (as I do, also) inside his own head. So it didn't really matter how he was taught. Also, to be fair, he had some pretty good math teachers in middle school and high school.

But I hear SO many kids say that they don't like math, or that they "can't do" math. Fact is, they couldn't possibly know.



Max Marty said...

Where the heck do you dig up these things? This paper made my day! It gets an A+ for the best feel-good paper I've read in awhile. It really helps with all that built-up insecurity about my seemingly sub-par intelligence that math-class helped entrench throughout school :D

Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

These complaints about math are due to teaching math as how-to-do, rather than understanding basic principles. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

K Ackermann said...

I wanted to be a rock star, but I ended up writing scientific software for a living.

The reason? I was better at math than music.

Ironically, this was not discovered until after I finished high school. There was virtually no applied math in school.

What's better: memorizing PI, or learning how to derive it from first principles?

Understanding that the surface area of a sphere increases by the square of the radius, and that gravity falls off by the inverse square of the radius perfectly illustrates in my head that gravity just gets smeared evenly around the sphere.

Little things like that can make a big difference at an early age.

Anonymous said...

I hear ya'. Math is one cruel war out there just waiting to be won. Your blog is one of the best feel-good blogs ever!

Anonymous said...

Many students don't like the Mathematic as a subject because they have no interest in it and I will say that they should give proper attention to it!
Mathematics Advice

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