Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Teaching Math, the California Way

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To the Editor:

Re “California Tries to Close the Gap in Math, but Sets Off a Backlash” (front page, Nov. 5):

De-emphasizing math, including calculus, in favor of teaching social justice is a false dichotomy. What I gained from learning math gave me a powerful tool to engage fully with the world.

Though I have forgotten virtually all the calculus I once knew cold in high school and college, the psychological imprint of math and its crown jewel, calculus, gave me unforgettable life lessons.

Anyone who has studied calculus knows that it teaches one to “think outside the box.” That discipline demands that one push one’s mind to consider creative solutions from all directions until one finds the elegant and workable answers to the thorniest of problems.

As a model for approaching obstacles we all encounter, calculus serves as a lesson in real life and resiliency that applies to all disciplines and, equally important, to addressing the broader dimensions of life. The relentless challenge of math — to solve problems — should be an inspiration to each of us in whatever we pursue.

Dan A. Oren
Woodbridge, Conn.
The writer is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.

To the Editor:

It is hard to believe that anyone speaking in the name of social justice would think it is a good idea to limit mathematical course offerings such as calculus solely to students who have a love of and interest in mathematics.

Is this social justice? Or does social justice lie in the hands of teachers who need to be prepared to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students of math?

Research has shown that the ultimate determination of how well children learn and progress in mathematics lies with the teacher. Recruiting people to enter high-quality math teacher preparation programs is a challenge, and incentives should be in place to facilitate that process.

High-quality teachers, well schooled in social justice, have the ability to find the potential in each and every student to guide them on the most suitable mathematical route. Eliminating the path for certain students over others is certainly not social justice.

Alice F. Artzt
The writer is a professor of mathematics education at Queens College, CUNY.

To the Editor:

“California Tries to Close the Gap in Math, but Sets Off a Backlash” refers to “the stormy sea of data about what kinds of math instruction work best.” But there is widespread consensus among researchers and experts in the field (several of whom you interviewed) that teaching math for understanding is far more effective than rote memorization of number facts and formulas.

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