Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Book Review: Math Education in the US, Still Crazy After All These Years

I just posted the following review on Amazon for Barry Garelick's book Math Education in the US, Still Crazy After All These Years:

A few weeks ago I won this book and the author, whom I know only via blogs, asked me to review it.  Here's my review in a nutshell:  this is exactly the book *I* would write about the current state of math education if I were but as eloquent as Garelick.

His observations are profound, if simple: "In a world where it doesn't matter when you learn something, because you'll get it eventually, there seem to be few if any critical junctures, no mastery of procedure, no building on what you've learned--no learning."  Have you ever been told, "Don't worry if baby doesn't get it (multiplication, fractions, negative numbers) now, he/she'll see it again next year"?  That is exactly what Garelick is talking about.  "Its substance was shallow, memorization was discouraged, students were kept dependent on mental crutches"--if you've heard a teacher say "Just let them use a calculator; the computation isn't what's important here, it's the higher-level thinking and deep understanding that we're after", then Garelick has told you what's really going on.  Are you told that "We don't teach children how to do the problem, we teach them how to think so they can figure out the problem on their own", Garelick again clarifies:  "...constructivism taken to extremes can result in students' not knowing what they have discovered, not knowing how to apply it, or, in the worst case, discovering--and taking ownership of--the wrong answer."

What I enjoyed most of all, though, was Garelick's clarification of ideas I've long had.  Again, I wish I could state my beliefs as clearly as he does.  For example:  "That critical thinking cannot occur without something to think critically about--namely facts--is of little concern to ed school gurus", or his entire discussion of working memory/cognitive load theory.

Garelick has his educational history correct.  He has his assessment of direct instruction vs. constructivism correct.  He has facts and figures and studies, and he quotes top-quality mathematicians.  He knows the education world, and he reveals its dirty little secrets.  He gets cause and effect correct; for example, "For many students, the 'why' of the procedure is easier to navigate once fluency is developed for the particular procedure."  And he adeptly slays the Common Core dragon of writing essays to explain how you got your answer and why it's correct.

I enjoyed this book so much because I share Garelick's fundamental beliefs about math education, where it's been and where it's going.  This is an exceptional book for anyone interested in navigating math education today. 


Anonymous said...

Not just math education. It seems the whole of education is moving to "they can always look it up". Is it any wonder that few know that we are not a democracy or that climate change is not a new phenomenon. The push to not learn (memorize) basic facts has led us to a future where few citizens will have the skills necessary. Thank goodness there are still pockets of die-hard believers in education who want students to actually know something so that new ideas can be developed either by building upon previous work or by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

I know I intend to see that my grandkids do not become part of this current educational trap.

education realist said...

Since you added me to your blogroll (and I will do the same as soon as I get there, and thanks for the nice words), I feel obligated to point out that while I don't necessarily disagree with Garelick, I think he misstates the world of high school math: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/understanding-math-and-the-zombie-problem/

I don't disagree with Barry, but I feel his lack of experience in teaching upper level math at high school affects his opinions. Since you teach upper math, (right?) I would be interested in your thoughts, negative or no.

PeggyU said...

Does he offer any solutions?

Darren said...

PeggyU, he wants high-quality direct instruction.

education realist: I agreed with his assessments. What in particular did you find lacking? It's possible I missed something in my overall zeal for the book.

Ellen K said...

If you do not use your brain, you will lose your ability to use it. It's been proven that elderly nuns who did word games, logic puzzles and such didn't develop the characteristics of dementia in their later years. Analysis of their brains after death revealed that the plaques which cause dementia or Alzheimers were there, but because they had remained active, eaten healthy diets and used their brains rather than relying on machines to think for them allowed their bodies to compensate to the point that demential seldom developed. We are creating a generation seriously addicted to cellphones-to the point that they go into nervous fits when access is removed. People in government like technology because it's something they can point to and say "we bought that for you." In the meantime kids in Pakistan and India and China and Russia are not learning how to do math with Common Core, nor are they relying on calculators to give them the answer to a simply problem they should be able to calculate themselves.At every level of education we are seeing a watering down of rigor in order to make students and parents "feel better' about the deficits in their knowledge. In the last 15 years I have to seriously alter my lessons. I have eliminated entire sections because today's students can't read directions or write well enough to perform. What we are doing now is not working. And making excuses based on anything other than lack of effort is an exercise in more of the same.

Ellen K said...

I apologize for the spelling and syntax errors. This keyboard is driving me crazy.