Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fixing Math Education 1

Improving math education, I mean, really improving it, and not just pretending by doing change for the sake of change, is complicated. But it is more complicated politically than it is educationally. The things that actually need to be done are not as difficult to ascertain as some people think. The problem is, there is no political consensus on doing the right things. Every idea for a good or necessary change is shot down for one reason or another. So we muddle along in mediocrity.

The first thing we need is to put truly math-savvy people in the elementary math classrooms. The current crop of elementary teachers (not all of them, of course), whine because they don't know enough math and they want more "training." But the problem isn't really that they need training, it's that they need an intellectual capacity for doing math and a love for doing math that no training can give them. The best that any training can do is give them some techniques for presenting ideas to students at the grade level they teach. But what they need is a grand understanding of mathematics, including the development of mathematical ideas in the children they teach, but also including the future mathematical needs of these children...especially the ones who will go on to careers in the hard sciences, engineering, statistics, and even pure math. The average elementary teacher has no clue at all what lies ahead for these students. The result is an inability to foster the ideas and attitudes that are necessary for excellence in mathematics.

A political argument that will be made immediately is that not every student is going in this direction, or even has the talent for such a career. Yes, well, that is true. Is it really a solution to deny the necessary education to those who need it, because others do not want it? I find that unacceptable, don't you?