Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't let the New York Times near the schools...

Some time ago the New York Times had a story called Gut Instinct's Surprising Role in Math, which contains this paragraph. See if anything seems wrong with this reasoning:

One research team has found that how readily people rally their approximate number sense is linked over time to success in even the most advanced and abstruse mathematics courses. Other scientists have shown that preschool children are remarkably good at approximating the impact of adding to or subtracting from large groups of items but are poor at translating the approximate into the specific. Taken together, the new research suggests that math teachers might do well to emphasize the power of the ballpark figure, to focus less on arithmetic precision and more on general reckoning.

Preschool children aren't very good at specific math, so... teachers should teach it less! That's the conclusion the reporter is drawing. Focus on what the kids already know and don't try so much to teach them anything new. Great idea. It's been tried with reading: a few decades ago they said phonics was boring and hard and they got teachers to stop working on it, with disastrous results for the poor illiterate kids who failed to learn reading effortlessly by osmosis as expected.


Warren said...

Well, that's science for you.

"... how readily people rally their approximate number sense is linked over time to success".

Statistics = Truth.

I see a devolution within our society which results in (a) the inability to accept something as truth, unless it can be stated via a statistical correlation, and (b) a results-based approach to every discipline (including pedagogy) that is notable not for any real success, but for such a narrow definition of "success" in education, that it can be proved that "everyone is learning more now", even when everyone is patently learning less.



Rachel Gray said...

Warren, your comment reminds me of Dorothy Sayers' Lost Tools of Learning.

There are whole categories of knowledge that seem to be missing from the schools, and one is logic-- how to reason something out and ascertain whether a proposition is proved or not. That reporter, for example, is lacking logic. He assumes that if "approximate number sense" and "success in advanced math" are correlated, that means the first causes the second and you can get to the second without bothering to teach it, just by encouraging the first. What an illogical conclusion!