Math As A Merit Badge (And Other Comments)

Jose VilsonResources

Don't Drink and Derive

Don’t Drink and Derive

The responses to my last post about math (who said I’m not a math blogger again?) ranged from the plauditory to the super-critical. Here’s a selection of some of my favorite comments to my last piece. First, Michael Doyle sets the record straight:

Algebra II has become a badge, one of many, that pretends to separate middle class white boys from, well, everybody else. You can pass A2 without understanding a whole lot about mathematics, or even numbers, but the vast majority of careers that “require” A2 do not actually require that you actually use it–they just require that you have some kind of certificate saying you passed a course labeled Algebra II.

So if we’re going to talk about math, or schooling as a whole, we need to look at what “merit” means. Perfect. Another from Jeff Branzberg:

The problem with math [instruction] is most math teachers do not make the subject interesting. I do not believe this is their fault, though. Math is perceived (and taught) as a series of techniques and algorithms, with little to no real life connection. Typical problems are developed simply to assess whether or not the student has mastered those techniques and algorithms. The pressures of high stakes testing and false accountability (e.g., if a student has mastered a technique, frequently without understanding, and can apply it in a rote fashion he/she is deemed to have learned it) prevent math teachers from spending the time needed for understanding.
Geonz hit this comment out the park, and I wish I said it first. More explicitly. Like he did.
Another problem is that math (and academic success) is taught with a particular kind of code, and if you’re in the ‘right’ demographics, you learn that code. Once they know some secret passwords that you don’t, you end up not understanding much of what’s going on, so you do the best you can to learn the ones they’re teaching where you are — but you’re missing … the basics.
Finally, I found Mike Klonsky’s view on things interesting:
I didn’t read Baker’s piece this way. I found it pretty compelling. I don’t think he was trying to limit how much math students receive. But rather, making Algebra 2 and advanced math electives, rather than compulsory gate keepers to college. How many more gates to kids need? Why not Philosophy? Chinese? Both very interesting and important if the student is interested. Baker seems to favor compulsory first year Algebra. Then make it interest-driven.
While I do believe we need to make math more interest-driven, I also get tired of using math as the straw-man for reforming subjects, as Ilana Horn has mentioned on Twitter. If we’re going to make it “interest-driven,” then I hope we do so for all kids, not just the ones we want to encourage to go to vocational school. That’s my only real concern.
That was fun. Til next time, folks.

Jose

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