The emphasis on math was pushed by the need for US science to compete with the Nazis and Russians. It created generations of dropouts and slackers who avoid “hard classes,” and ultimately cost us our competitive lead.

I would have had little problem with algebra had I first been introduced to symbolic logic. Logic built on my language skills, and provided the metaphoric language math teachers lack to communicate with students like me. (I never understood variables until I took philosophy. The notion of something that has no value until you assign it never connected. The idea of an empty container waiting for me to find what belongs inside did. They may seem like the same to some, but, trust me, they aren’t.”

Other students can’t make the transition at all.

When I taught at a charter school a math teacher and I devised a course that combined math with basic English. It was a lot of work on our part but we worked hard to map essential math skills to a similar lesson from Freshman English (e.g. mapping word problems to analogies). Because it was a two hour block this allowed us to incorporate the lessons that wouldn’t cross transfer. Every math lesson (and English lesson) was tied to a life skill.

I also required them to write about math.

Students were far more confident of their math skills leaving the class than they were going in.

The success of the program led the administrators to insist the other teachers adopt the same method, and conducted the training without our input. Lacking buy-in (and even a clear understanding) the program failed or turned into bizarre couplings such as geometry and geography because both have “geo” in the names. (“Now we have our geometry lesson. Next we’ll do geography.”)

The failure of American education isn’t just math, it’s a failure to understand that education can’t be reduced to a set of standards, and that any model that succeeds in one classroom may not transfer to others. It doesn't help that an entire industry promotes an endless array of theories and practices.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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