NY Times Op-Ed Piece by Garfunkel and Mumford

A continued conversation based on the New York Times article: How to Fix Our Math Education, By SOL GARFUNKEL and DAVID MUMFORD

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Joseph Malkevitch
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NY Times Op-Ed Piece by Garfunkel and Mumford

Postby Joseph Malkevitch » Thu Aug 25, 2011 9:48 am

Dear Friends,

Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford have written an important Op-Ed piece (How to Fix Our Math Education) which has appeared in today's New York Times (Thursday, August 25, page A27) and is also available on line at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/opini ... ation.html

Also look at the many comments in reaction to what Garfunkel and Mumford write.

http://community.nytimes.com/comments/w ... ation.html


Joseph Malkevitch
Department of Mathematics
York College (CUNY)
Jamaica, New York 11451



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Re: NY Times Op-Ed Piece by Garfunkel and Mumford

Postby mikegold » Thu Sep 08, 2011 11:32 am

Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2011 4:35 pm

Re: NY Times Op-Ed Piece by Garfunkel and Mumford

Postby capjax » Fri Sep 09, 2011 12:24 pm

Letters between me and Bill Falk, editor of "The Week" magazine.
Bill wrote an op-ed piece on the Times article.

Dear Mr. Falk,
The more interest media leaders take in education the better. Everyone agrees that quality education must be part of the nation's strategy for maintaining leadership in the world's economy.
Most people when making the point go on to talk about America's current lagging performance in math. Here's something to keep in mind. The countries at the top of the math-performing list are not asking why a student who doesn't plan a career in engineering or science should have to "break their brains on quadratic equations." In those countries, quadratic equations come before career decisions are finalized. Also, in those countries a little brain breaking is seen as a good thing.
So, before we embrace suggestions that we dispense with quadratic equations, trig, and calculus, maybe we should take one more look at the situation. In graduate school I learned that techniques such as individualization, self-pacing, small-step learning, frequent testing and review, could make brain-breaking tasks a lot easier to learn. More fun, too. The only problem was that conducting that kind of instruction was much too difficult for a teacher to manage. That was before personal computers and the Internet. The world is different now. Still, I am unaware of any large-scale effort to systematically incorporate the instructional techniques I described into a coherent computer-managed math curriculum. I'm certain that such a curriculum could easily address both the brain-breaking aspects of math and the functional, everyday parts of it, too. It will take some selling, though. That's where media leaders might come in. Your thoughts? ;o)
Jack Fretwell
Starboard Training Systems
11729 North Shore Drive Reston, VA 20190

Dear Jack,

I understand what you’re saying, but I think we may have to agree to disagree.

I’m sure there are better ways to teach math, such as the methods you describe. But I don’t think we’re going to catch Singapore and India by compelling everyone to study higher math. It would be like trying to produce world-class athletes by forcing every high school student to join the track or basketball team. If the talent isn’t there, it’s pointless.

Better teaching methods could make more students competent in math, but there’s no way you could interest folks like me or my daughter in an engineering or physics career. It’s just not where our aptitudes and interests lie. Most of us know that by 11th grade. (I somehow managed to get a 700 on one of my math SATs, but stopped taking math in college, as soon as I was no longer compelled to study it. I was just interested in other things.)

The brain-breaking work that I found most stimulating and useful was the reading and analysis of literature, history, political science, and even some science courses such as geology and astronomy.

I’m sure other students found physics and engineering more to their liking. To each his own!

Bill Falk

Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford sent out an email asking folks to join their forum. Would it be OK with you if I posted our dialog?

Singapore and Indian math students are not more talented than American students. They just have teachers who know and love math more than most American teachers and they are expected to do more homework. The main difference is those students actually do the homework and American students generally do less.

The better ways to teach math I have in mind use instructional software to enhance the presentation of concepts and to assign homework tailored to the needs and abilities of the individual student. The homework gets done, and not only do students become more competent and successful, they enjoy math more. Until you have studied under a similar program, I don't think you can safely guarantee that there's no way you could become interested.

That's not to say you would finally prefer a career in engineering or physics over something more literary or socially oriented, but it does imply that, if a mathy approach to analysis and problem-solving has benefits, you'd stand to get more of them in whatever career you chose. Which is why I think math, at least through algebra (including quadratic equations), belongs in the repertoire of an educated person.

Meanwhile, on a related note, I like brain-teasers. Many folks don't, and I feel for them. To me it's like being colorblind or tone deaf. I'm attaching one of my favorites. If you like it you'll let me know. ;o)

Best regards,

Sure, I’m fine with that. Will be curious to see what other people post there. I’m sure this is a hot-button topic!

P.S. The brain teaser looks like fun, but I’m one of those colorblind people you speak of.... I simply cannot make myself do any kind of puzzle, whether it’s a crossword puzzle, soduko, or brain teaser. I find these exercises irritating instead of entertaining. Perhaps this is why I also hated quadratic equations...

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