Re: "Madam, I'm 2002 - a Numerically Beautiful Year"

Letter to the Editor
The New York Times
January 2, 2002
(Not published)

To the editor
Re: "A Numerically Beautiful Year"; (Alfred S. Posamontier, op-ed Jan 2nd):

Because mathematics, through and including calculus, is necessary for careers ranging from medicine to business to engineering, it is critical that young students’ love for mathematics be instilled by exposing them to content-rich and arithmetic-intensive problems such as the one elucidated by Professor Alfred S. Posamontier (" A Numerically Beautiful Year," op-ed Jan 2nd).

Increasingly and unfortunately, in a misguided effort to make mathematics enjoyable, some K-12 curriculum developers, apparently unable or unwilling to address the task of preparing students for college mathematics, have induced the National Science Foundation to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in experimental curricula that de-emphasize the development of arithmetic and algebra skills. Specifically, the National Science Foundation-sponsored program currently being tested in some of New York City's flagship school districts is nearly devoid of useful and challenging mathematical content. Especially egregious is that K-5 curriculum's failure to provide even minimally adequate arithmetic practice: all of the student worksheets together contain fewer than twenty problems requiring students to multiply whole numbers between 6 and 9 inclusive, either as a standalone problem or as part of a longer calculation.

Mathematically deficient programs cannot instill love for mathematics. It is critical that university mathematicians and scientists work together with curriculum developers to provide youngsters with both an enjoyable learning experience and the mathematics content that is needed to meet the escalating demands of the workplace. Failure to do so will cripple the mathematical development of many children, especially those whose parents cannot afford the cost of outside tutoring, and deprive them of access to mathematics-based careers.

Stanley Ocken
Professor of Mathematics
The City College of the City University of New York

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