Comment: not that simple

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not that simple

At one time I was an education activist. I spent years trying to fix the system in California doing exactly what this kid is doing. The battle grew and became known eventually as the "Math Wars".

It started with several strangers in various communities trying to talk sense to our school boards about some crazy new math programs that had been implemented. After several months of this and after several of us had established local groups, we somehow found each other on the internet in around 1995. We created a group, but we soon learned that we'd have to work with people of every political persuasion, from socialist, liberal to conservative. Mathematics is not in itself political, so Mathematically Correct was born. The core group consisted of scientists and engineers. We soon found math professors were drawn to our cause, who filled us in on the sordid history of mathematics education in our country.

California is a leftist state, so it made some sense to work the problem at the state level. It really went against my grain, but the problem is really that large. I learned that something called "schools of education" had come into being. These nice folks were teaching new teachers some of the most absurd things - like teachers aren't supposed to teach anymore. Instead they were to be "guides on the side". Basic mathematical algorithms weren't to be taught. After all, kids now have calculators. I can go on for hours on this.

Then there was the teacher who offered that there are multiple ways to do the same thing in mathematics, so why should they teach a single algorithm? I asked her to show me an example and she did a long division problem for me that had twice the number of steps. Confused, I asked here why I would want to use an algorithm that had twice the steps and she had no answer. This is why certain basic ways of doing things have evolved - simply they're the most efficient. I'd use any algorithm I could find that was more efficient than what I now use. At the same time, I wondered how a student would learn all the various topics they'd need if they learned a half dozen ways to do each thing.

This is the problem. Once indoctrinated, many people will have these beliefs for life. I'd like to trust every teacher to teach students the content they need, recognizing that some will work in math based occupations and that this group of students is the only hope our country has of competing in a technological future.

To counteract the damage the Ed schools were doing, we decided to back a new set of content standards for the state. Teachers could teach any way they wanted, but had to include a standard set of content. Newer teachers hated it since they would have to teach content they, themselves didn't know. Older teachers didn't like the idea, and sometimes found the standards restrictive (many thanked us for our work).

By 2000, the California had new content standards and a new state wide test. By 2001, new text books aligned to the standards were purchased. We officially had the highest level standards in the US, on a par with Japan, Singapore, and a handful of other high performing countries on international tests.

When George Bush ran for office, he decided to become the "education president" and force the California model on the rest of the country. I hated the idea, but many of our scientists and math professors tried to make the national standards as good as possible, though what came out was much weaker than the California standards.

With the changing of the guard, my worst fears were realized. The heavy handed top down model of California was being used to dumb down the entire country - including California - with the dreaded Common Core. I no longer believe forced government schooling is the answer at any level.