Basic Skills and Understanding

To the editor, Education Week


It is disappointing to see--again--the mindless repetition "In mathematics, some want to emphasize basic skills, such as memorizing multiplication tables and mastering basic computational skills, while others advocate instruction that builds students' understanding of mathematical concepts before working on basic skills." (Bush to Push for Math and Science Upgrade, Nov. 20, 2002)

One would expect that after so many years of covering the "math wars", David Hoff would realize that this is a false dichotomy promulgated by people who do not believe that all children--and minority children in particular--can handle a normal program of mathematics.

Both sides want children to understand and know mathematics. The difference being that the reformists believe this can be done without children mastering the fundamental arithmetic and algebra behind it, while the traditionalists realize that this is akin to expecting children to play Mozart without knowing the scales, or perform in a play without reading the script.

Ze'ev Wurman
Palo Alto, CA

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.