Newsletter 115     Dick Askey's Brown Bag 2/04

Once again a lightning follow-up to the previous newsletter, this time because of a lightning event-sequence. Today we had a well attended Brown Bag that captured everyone's attention. Our guest was Dick Askey, now retired from the University of Wisconsin. He has strong feelings about the state of mathematics education, and they go back a long way. A very long way, in fact -- he amused us with a tale from an eighth grade math class where the teacher made so many mistakes that DIck decided to follow his mother's wise injunction: "When you feel strongly, write a note and tear it up!". Unfortunately a classmate saw him writing "If you don't know any mathematics, why are you teaching it?" and persuaded him to deliver it. Net result was a transfer to a better class (I'm not sure what his mother thought about that!) Many of his concerns echo those that were bouncing around at WaToToM: teachers at all levels need far stronger mathematical education than they are currently getting, and they aren't going to get it unless the system itself changes and well-designed stronger requirements are instituted. He is very much a fan of Liping Ma's book on Knowing & Teaching Elementary Mathematics, and has used it to good effect in convincing those in power that action is needed.

The place where our views diverge is the NCTM Standards and their impact on teaching. To me they represent a very exciting development, by no means free of flaws, but overall positive, encouraging and holding out a lot of hope for the future. Dick feels that they are a collection of flaws constructed in a flawed manner on a flawed basis. With energetic delving he has unearthed an impressive collection of examples, and honesty compels me to admit that some of them are pretty hair-raising.

Since the Brown Bag was actually a presentation rather than a conversation, I am going to follow it up with a reference to a whole bunch of things I would love to think I would have said if I had had the chance. They are part of a website that I had heard of but not checked out until I was pointed that direction by a talk at the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators conference a couple of weeks ago. I think it's great, and I heartily recommend checking it out: http://mathematicallysane.


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