I am a software engineer residing on the space coast in Florida and like other parents I have developed a keen interest in the state of education, particularly in my case, mathematics education. I have spent several years engaged in this topic, reading, studying, analyzing and debating and now feel the need to put a better wrapper on it all, thus this blog. My entry into this debate was fated to happen as soon as my son entered public school and I suppose that is how many get into this thing they call the math wars.

We seem to have been, for the last couple of decades at least, defined by a philosophy of believing rather than knowing. It is easier to convince people of what they want to believe rather than convince them of what is real. Especially when real is harder than not real, which is almost always the case. I don’t expect this to change, it is part of human nature to want to believe and con men know this all to well. But eventually reality always catches up because that is why we call it reality. After everything else is said and done, after all the rhetoric and all of the posturing, reality is what remains. Well, reality is doing a lot of catching up in the world today and I don’t think any of us have a good sense of where it is all going to land for our children.

But one reality doesn’t change. It is immutable. We want our children to be productive, we want our children to be happy, and we want them to be educated. Now, you are probably thinking that since I am writing a mathematics blog then I must equate educated with mathematics. I do not. I do think everyone needs to have solid arithmetic skills and to be able to apply those skills in their profession or trade. I think all students should at least be exposed to algebra, more than once if that be their choosing, but it should not count against them if it be not their choosing. Those students that follow a path that requires more math, like engineering or some other STEM career will obviously need algebra, calculus and somewhere beyond, and be successful at it. And those that aspire to be mathematicians, well, that is easy, they take all the math they can in one lifetime. But the rest of the students, like the nurse that wants to be a nurse but not a mathematician, or the writer that wants to be a writer but not a mathematician, or even the teacher that wants to be a teacher but not necessarily a math teacher, I don’t believe need more math than solid arithmetic, an exposure to algebra and a moderate amount of in-class experience in applying that math in practical and effective ways just like grownups do in their careers.

But all of that is certainly not the reality of schools today. Things are changing but I cannot say where it will land as far as public school goes. You best bet still is and probably will always be the ability to choose where you live and where your children go to school. But even that is not always enough and your other best and more important bet is to involve yourself in your children’s education. And this is my main goal for this blog.

When I am not relentlessly dogging the populist math authors, the educationalists with ulterior motives or just the plain charlatans that prey on human nature and people’s want to believe, I will be posting a reference curriculum covering math all the way from counting through at least pre-calculus but probably (high school) calculus. The purpose for such an endeavor is to capture (faithfully) the entire K-12 sequence of mathematics in one place, in sufficient depth with lesson ideas and links to help other parents on this journey. The average parent (which includes me) simply does not have the time to gather this information and keep up with the fads and novelty that are also occurring at their children’s school. Even I find this balance difficult but I think I have a shot at completing this project within 12 months time.

Enjoy

Bob Hansen

Hey Bob,

Really interesting collection you have here. I will be sure to keep an eye on this

Cheers,

Brit

Thanks Brit. You seem to have the making of a math mythbusters team going on at http://www.artoftheproblem.net. Very neat.

Hi Bob,

I liked your recent comment on Dan Meyer’s blog, so I looked you up on your site. I agree with most of what you wrote in this interesting entry and would add something to this: “…or even the teacher that wants to be a teacher but not necessarily a math teacher…”. If I was picking math teachers for my school, I would opt for someone who has strong interest in math, teaching kids math and learning how to become a better math teacher. But not necessarily someone who has been on the “royal road to calculus and beyond” all their lives. I find that mathematicians in the classic sense don’t usually work well with most students even in college. There are exceptions, of course. But in my experience they are rare.

I agree. I do not buy into the idea that math teachers must have advanced degrees. They must know the subject they are teaching, like the subject they are teaching, and like to teach the subject they are teaching (as you said). Such a teacher will probably explore a bit further than that and as long as those three conditions are met, how far they carry their own exploration is irrelevant.