Yesterday I came across these guys. The Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math (WISE) is a movement organized by some University Mathematics Professors. On their front page, they state:
We began this initiative because we are experts in mathematics and we care deeply about the education of Canadian children. Children who do not receive the strong education in math that they deserve may ultimately be excluded from many careers in trades, technology, science, engineering, business, and economics, to name a few. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve their potential in math so that they may enjoy lives free of innumeracy, may experience the beauty in math, and so that they may have a wide range of career opportunities.
It seems like a noble goal. Digging deeper into their site, I discovered that they believe the following things will improve mathematics instruction in Western Canada.
- Only “math specialists” should be permitted to teach math, at all levels from K-12.
- Math curriculum should be written by “professional mathematicians.” They should decide on both content and pedagogy. Only those who use and teach math at such a high level are qualified to make decisions about math curriculum.
- Standard algorithms must be taught.
- Students must be given lots of practice.
- Calculator use should be minimized.
- “Mathematicians” should review all resources including texts, teacher guides, and all other tools.
Their site asks people to sign a petition to lobby governments to make sure these things are addressed. Many parents have responded indicating support for this initiative, mostly because their kids can’t make change. Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will probably know where I stand on this one. For any new readers who happen across this post, let me tell you how angry this made me.
The sheer pompousness of this group of mathematicians, who seem to think that everybody should learn mathematics the way that worked for them, astounds me. I guarantee that this group of professors has absolutely no idea how to deal with a range of struggling learners. Their classes are full of only the best math students, and those who love math. They deal with students who had over 80% in high school math, and yet I suspect they still can’t (or won’t) differentiate adequately to help students who struggle in University math. Despite their ignorance of what math looks like in the trenches, they assume that their methods would work for all the diverse learners we have in K-12. Rigour is the answer. Algorithms are the answer. Real mathematicians in front of kids is the answer. Give me a break. Not one of them would last more than a week in a K-12 math classroom. And even if they did survive, only the best and brightest students would have learned anything. The rest would have been shuffled out to a shop class.
Despite my anger, I wrote a comment that respectfully disagreed with them, and tried to post it on their blog. They claim to encourage debate on this issue. My comment was rejected, so I’ll share it here. I’d love to hear from some Math Education Professors. They must deal with this kind of thing from their colleagues in the Math department. How do they handle it?
My comment to the folks behind WISE (?):
You guys are attributing an old phenomena to a new curriculum. It’s misguided and actually ironic in a lot of ways.
- Parents who hated math in school are supporting this movement and effectively asking us to teach their kids in the same manner that didn’t work for them.
- This site was set up by some University Math professors. Twenty years ago, when I took first year calculus, it was these same people who told us on the first day to look left and right at the people beside us. They told us only 1 in 3 would pass. They expected a 66% failure rate. They wore that failure rate proudly, like a badge. This happened in a time when we had the kind of curriculum this site advocates. That kind of curriculum didn’t produce good thinkers who are successful in University math. It produced good imitators. Now those same professors want us to keep producing imitators rather than thinkers?
- University math professors were, in fact, involved in the writing of this new WNCP curriculum. The ones I talk to are excited about the prospect of getting University math students who are deeper thinkers. I encourage this site’s group of Math professors to talk to the ones who were involved in the writing of the new curriculum. Or do they think they know better than their own colleagues?
- Not one student has graduated from the new WNCP math curriculum yet. The first set of graduates come out next year. Any perceived deficiencies in students’ mathematical abilities right now is based on the outgoing curriculum, which was the kind of curriculum this site is advocating. You folks seem to want to go back to the very system you have suggested was broken.