The Wrong Answer

Dear readers

I’m overwhelmed with the self-imposed task of sorting out my “life”—all the papers and books that have accumulated over the years because “how can I throw this out?” or “I was just thinking of writing about this,” or “how come I never read this?” etc.   Therefore I’ve not been blogging of late.  (I’ve set Thanksgiving as my deadline for house-cleaning, and already have 11 boxes full of books which I part with nervously.)

But I can’t resist this amazing piece that Michael Goldenberg sent me (even if it delays the final job by a few…days?): Nicholson Baker’s The  Wrong Answer: The case against Algebra II (in Harpers Magazine, September 2013).  Twenty-five  years ago a few of us at Central Park East Secondary School in East Harlem brought some top mathematics educators together to press this same case, and seek a sensible solution for what needs to be taught–and learned.  We thought we were lonely nuts, and our efforts didn’t get us far.  But—I’m regaining enthusiasm for the cause.  Thanks Michael for your indefatigable efforts, and thanks Andrew Hacker and others for keeping the flame burning!!   Here’s the last paragraph of Baker’s superbly written and definitive essay.

“Math-intensive education hasn’t done much for Russia, as it turns out. But historical counter examples don’t seem to interest the latest generation of crisis-mongers. We’ve once again gotten ourselves caught up in a strangely self-destructive statistical cold war with other high-achieving countries.  The recruits are young teenagers, their ammunition the little bubbles on standardized tests. America’s technological future hinges, say the rigorists, on whether our student population can plug-and-chug the binomial theorem better than, say, Korean or Finnish or German or Chinese students. The childishness of this hyper nationalistic mentality depresses me, and I want it to end, and I am not alone..”