Some Very Fuzzy Numbers

The New York Post
Sunday, April 22, 2001


The Board of Education's decision to go ahead with the experimental "new math" - in the face of legitimate objections from parents and math teachers at the city's best schools - is nothing short of reprehensible.

"New math" uses a "constructivist" approach that dumps tried-and-true methods of algorithms and equations in favor of students working in groups to "discover" answers through reading passages.

As The Post's Carl Campanile has reported, "fuzzy" math is particularly insidious because it not only sells students a bill of goods- using them as guinea pigs without teaching them much worth knowing - it also short-changes parents who can't participate in their children's learning. That is, parents well-versed in traditional mathematics are completely in the dark trying to "translate" the new system.

Speaking of translation, Campanile reports that "new math" presents yet another obstacle for immigrant children. Based as it is on reading and writing, rather than simply numbers, any students for whom English is not a first tongue is doubly handicapped.

In addition, "new math" creates economic burdens for many families.

With the children not learning from this experiment, many parents turn to tutors to produce results that their kids aren't getting from what is supposed to be a free public school system.

Meanwhile, mathematicians at elite city schools are disgusted for an entirely different reason - believing, probably correctly, that the new curriculum doesn't sufficiently challenge many of the top students.

]In other words, this helps no one: It makes math unnecessarily more confusing for poorer students, while failing to expand knowledge for the better ones.

New math actually isn't so new: Its proponents have been trying to push this snake oil since the mid '50s. But now the Board of Ed has been fooled into accepting it.

Livingston Street has bought into a system invented by individuals who know nothing about actual instruction - and can't truly be said to care for the students.

Acquiescence in this scheme - especially after it had a disastrous showing four years ago in California - is malfeasance of the gravest sort.

As former Sen. Bob Kerrey, the freshly-installed president of the New School University, told The Post this week: If another reason were needed to scrap the archaic Board of Education, its approval of "new math" is it.

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