kitchen table math, the sequel

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nailed it!

Nice op-ed from a 37-year veteran teacher who nails it to the wall, regarding what teaching has become–a slave to reform ed ideas. And how veteran teachers survive it.
“The education reform movement has choked, stifled and smothered veteran teachers. It has poo-poo-ed their historic knowledge and the vast wealth of experience they have collected. Education reform has replaced it with ridiculous chants, mantras, beliefs and a bowing before the goddess of data and technology. A great false association has taken place. It is believed that because shiny new green teachers (the ones who quit in mooing herds within their first five years) are adept at computer usage they are also are harbingers of true new fix-it-all education. And this works for principals who desire compliant teachers to implement the new stuff. Who better to do it than flexible indentured newbies who feel indebted to the principal for employment.
“Veteran teachers have seen the following elementary educational fixes. And we survived them. Well, some of us did.
“MATH: Math Their Way, Math Land, Mathematics Unlimited, Callifornia Math, Excel Math, Math Expressions, Dot Math, Math Manipulatives, New Math, Common Core Math … and more.
“The How of Teaching: Self-contained classes, blended (switching classes), Team teaching, combination classes, combination bilingual classes, after school programs, learning centers, projects, leveled ELA, Immersion cooperative groups, pair-share, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Common Core, Goals and Standards numbered and written on the board, behavior modification plan this, behavior modification plan that and more.”
Couldn’t have said it better. And I’ve tried, believe me!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Time flies

I'm finding it incredible that about five seconds ago I was writing posts about teaching math to C., and today C. is taking his NY state teaching exam.

Meanwhile, our house went on the market yesterday.

Recent comments, oy

OK, this is annoying.

I've been so lax writing the blog that I no longer remember how to fix the recent comments widget, or even where to find it.

I'm actually planning a Whole New Blog, with a good friend, but since it's not up yet, I'm still planning as opposed to announcing.

Monday, May 30, 2016

I hate math, postscript

Actual conversation on this Memorial Day:

C. (studying for teacher exam): I hate geometry.

Me: Then you should probably do some geometry. It's good for your brain.

C.: I hate geometry.

Me: I don't care if you hate geometry. You should do some more.

C.: I hate triangles.

Me: You know I don't care if you hate triangles. You remember I'm a person who doesn't care, right?

C.: I do.

This exchange was more fun than it sounds. Lots more fun, in fact.

C. is actually enjoying himself (though he's not enjoying geometry). He's told me, several times now, "I like algebra."

I'm sitting in the kitchen, C. in the dining room, and I'm hearing "I got it right!"

"I got it right!"

That's fun!

(News flash: he just got a tennis ball versus basketball volume problem right. Progress.)

I remember, pretty distinctly, back when I was reteaching the entire middle-school math curriculum to C., that anything to do with geometry -- especially any angle-array-type image -- was a challenge. I think that's because C. is so verbal. When I was writing one of the Temple books, I found research showing that the verbal "masks" the visual. (The technical term for this may be "verbal overshadowing," but I could be misremembering.)

Here's another funny thing.

C. asked me to help him with the triangle problems. I said I would.

Then I didn't. He helped himself.

Consciously, I intended to help, but .... I didn't get to it.

This is yet another case where I think parental instincts work well and ought to be respected.

Throughout C's middle school years I was a helicopter mom. A helicopter mom and a direct instructivist. I had the t-shirt. (I still do.)

Then, when C. went to high school, I bowed out. Of course, the reason I could bow out was that we had pulled him out of our public school district and sent him to a Jesuit high school. The one and only time we had a significant problem there, with one particular teacher, Ed handled it.

My mother was sick at the time, and I was flying back and forth across the country, so I don't know what I would have done if that hadn't been the case. Nevertheless, the point remains: I was a helicopter parent up through 8th grade, then I wasn't.

C. graduated from NYU last week and starts his NYC Teaching Fellows program mid-June. He takes the teacher test this Thursday.

Today, when he asked for help with triangle problems, my cognitive unconscious apparently decided he didn't need help. And he didn't. So now I'm a hands-off parent and a constructivist.

This is the correct trajectory!

The correct, time-honored trajectory, may I add.

Treat children like children, treat grown-ups like grown-ups. An 11-year old doesn't need to teach himself, and shouldn't. A 22-year old does need to teach himself and must. And the best way to become a self-teaching 22-year old is to have teachers and parents who directly teach you when you're 11. People have known this for hundreds of years--thousands of years--and yet our public schools have somehow forgotten.

Another thing: all the give-your-child-the-gift-of-failure advice bestowed upon parents of middle school children is wrong.

Failure isn't a gift.

Knowledge is a gift. Teaching your child reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science, literature: that's the gift.

While I'm on the subject, grit is wrong, too. Give your child the gift of failure, then he'll have grit --- no!

C. is now 22 and guess what? He has grit. At least, he has as much grit as any other 22 year old, which is as much as he needs at this point. Today C. is responsible, he's independent, he's a serious person, and he's launched. He's exactly where he should be at 22.

C's friends are all in good shape, too, and none of them was ever "given" the gift of failure. When they experienced failure, the "gift" came from bad curriculum and bad teaching, and the parents responded with private tutors and personal reteaching at home. All of the parents we know protected and taught their children, and today those children are brand-new adults in good standing.

This brings me back to my long-time view that schools and governments and ed reformers and all the rest of the merry band should spend more time listening to parents and less time listening to themselves. We parents may not always know what we're doing, but we're on the ground, and we're not crazy. And we care. We don't just want to get it right, we have to get it right. Our kids' lives are our lives.

One of my favorite KTM lines, from Steve H, was (from memory): "Parents make mistakes, but it takes an ed school bureaucrat to really screw things up."

Anyway, I must get back to revisions and packing.

I just want to say, to all parents who find themselves at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy:

Ed and I did everything the authorities told us not to do, and our son is a terrific young man as a direct result. 


P.S. Just to be clear, I actually do care whether C. likes geometry. I would like him to like geometry. I don't care that he doesn't like studying geometry for a certification test. As a matter of fact, I'm glad he has to study geometry for a certification test, whether he likes it or not.

I felt the same way about the SAT.

P.P.S. Side issue: is it good to be 'rounded'? If you're a verbal person, not a visual person, is it good to do some geometry (or drawing)? If you're an academic type, is it good to play sports as well? I can't tell, and I've read research supporting building up your weak skills as well as research supporting focusing on your strengths and not building weak skills (because inside the brain, skills compete). Intuitively, I always feel that you don't want to be completely one thing and not another, but I have no idea whether that's right.

Maybe I'll develop a bona fide attachment to a baseball team one of these days, as opposed to the weak-kneed attachment I currently have to the Chicago Cubs. It's never too late.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Disciplines versus studies: Camille Paglia on speech and the modern campus

Camille Paglia's essay Free Speech and the Modern Campus is well worth reading.

In it, she makes a point Ed has made any number of times: the real source of illiberal speech codes and suppression of dissent lies in the various interdepartmental "studies" programs that were set up in the wake of the 1960s.

Here's Paglia:
... new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)

I maintain, from my dismayed observation at the time, that these new add-on programs were rarely if ever founded on authentic scholarly principles; they were public relations gestures meant to stifle criticism of a bigoted past. In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

Today’s campus political correctness can ultimately be traced to the way those new programs, including African-American and Native American studies, were so hastily constructed in the 1970s, a process that not only compromised professional training in those fields over time but also isolated them in their own worlds and thus ultimately lessened their wider cultural impact. I believe that a better choice for academic reform would have been the decentralized British system traditionally followed at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which offered large subject areas where a student could independently pursue his or her special interest. In any case, for every new department or program added to the U.S. curriculum, there should have been a central shared training track, introducing students to the methodology of research and historiography, based in logic and reasoning and the rigorous testing of conclusions based on evidence. Neglect of that crucial training has meant that too many college teachers, then and now, lack even the most superficial awareness of their own assumptions and biases. Working on campus only with the like-minded, they treat dissent as a mortal offense that must be suppressed, because it threatens their entire career history and world-view. The ideology of those new programs and departments, predicated on victimology, has scarcely budged since the 1970s. This is a classic case of the deadening institutionalization and fossilization of once genuinely revolutionary ideas.

Let me give just one example of political correctness run amok in campus women’s studies in the U.S. In 1991, a veteran instructor in English and women’s studies at the Schuylkill campus of Pennsylvania State University raised objections to the presence in her classroom of a print of Francisco Goya’s famous late-18th-century painting, Naked Maja. The traditional association of this work with the Duchess of Alba, played by Ava Gardner in a 1958 movie called The Naked Maja, has been questioned, but there is no doubt that the painting, now owned by the Prado in Madrid, is a landmark in the history of the nude in art and that it anticipated major 19th-century works like Manet’s Olympia.

The instructor brought her case to a committee called the University Women’s Commission, which supported her, and she was offered further assistance from a committee member, the campus Affirmative Action officer, who conveyed her belief that there were grounds for a complaint of sexual harassment, based on the “hostile workplace” clause in federal regulations. The university, responding to the complaint, offered to change the teacher’s classroom, which she refused. She also refused an offer to move the painting to a less visible place in the classroom or to cover it while she was teaching. No, she was insistent that images of nude women must never be displayed in a classroom — which would of course gut quite a bit of major Western art since ancient Greece.

Finally, the Naked Maja was moved, along with four other classic art prints in the classroom, to the TV room of the student community center, where a sign was posted to alert unwary passerby that art was present — a kind of enter-at-your-own-risk warning. This action by the university seems to have been widely regarded as a prudent compromise instead of the shameful capitulation to political correctness that it was. There was a spate of amused publicity about the incident in the mainstream press, with criticism passingly voiced by prominent journalists like Nat Hentoff (a free speech warrior) and Robert Hughes, the longtime art critic of TIME magazine. But the response from within the teaching profession was strikingly weak and limited. This was a moment for independent thinkers everywhere in American academe to condemn that puritanical exercise by a literature instructor who had made herself a dictator in the visual arts, a field about which she was conspicuously uninformed. All that she had was a rote ideology absorbed from anti-porn fanatics like the crusading feminist Andrea Dworkin, whose attempt to ban the sale of pornography (including mainstream men’s magazines) in Minneapolis and Indianapolis had been struck down in federal district court in 1984 as an unconstitutional infringement of free speech rights. The instructor claimed that she was protecting future women students from the “chilly climate” created by the Naked Maja. But in a later published article about the controversy, she revealed that she herself was uncomfortable in the presence of the painting. She wrote, “I felt as though I were standing there naked, exposed and vulnerable.” I’m sorry, but we simply cannot permit uncultivated neurotics to set the agenda for arts education in America.

Here we come to one of the most pernicious aspects of identity politics as it reshaped the American university — the confusion of teaching with social work. The issue of improper advocacy in the classroom has never been adequately addressed by the profession. Teaching and research must strive to remain objective and detached. The teacher as an individual citizen may and should have strong political convictions and activities outside the classroom, but in the classroom, he or she should never take ideological positions without at the same time frankly acknowledging them as opinion to the students and emphasizing that all students are completely free to hold and express their own opinions on any issue, no matter how contested, from abortion, homosexuality, and global warming to the existence of God or the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Unfortunately, because of the failure of American colleges and universities to seek and support ideological diversity on their campuses, the humanities faculties have trended so far toward liberal Democrats (among whom I number myself) that they often seem naively unaware that any other beliefs are possible or credible.

The old-guard professors at the Yale Graduate School in the late 1960s may have been stuffy and genteel, but they were genuine scholars, passionately devoted to study and learning. They believed they had a moral obligation to seek the truth and to express it as accurately as they could. I remember it being said at the time that a scholar’s career could be ruined by fudging a footnote. A tragic result of the era of identity politics in the humanities has been the collapse of rigorous scholarly standards, as well as an end to the high value once accorded to erudition, which no longer exists as a desirable or even possible attribute in job searches for new faculty.

Barry's book !

Math Education in the U.S.: Still Crazy After All These Years

Very exciting!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The 45 percent

Déjà vu:
When we talk about remedial courses, we usually talk about community colleges, where more than half of students take them, and where they pose a significant barrier to graduation for many.

But a new report from the advocacy group Education Reform Now and the advocacy publication Education Post broadens the lens. According to their analysis of state and federal higher education data, 45 percent of students who place into remedial courses come from middle- and high-income families. That describes Diaz, who attended private school in the affluent Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles.

This was what Michael Dannenberg, a co-author of the report, calls a "whoa" moment: "realizing that students from all income backgrounds are suffering the consequences of mediocre high schools."

Taking High School Courses In College Costs Students And Families Nearly $1.5 Billion
How is this a "whoa moment"?

How is this a "whoa moment" for the co-author of a report on US education?

I blame No Child Left Behind (a law I supported and still do.) All of the language surrounding NCLB implied (and assumed) that white schools were good, black schools bad. The injustice was happening to just one category of student.

That was always wrong, but it stuck.

Subitize this

Matthew Tabor has just posted a video called "Common Core Explained" on The 74.

I watched half of it, and am now having so much trouble finding words to express my astonishment, that I'll just leave it to Matthew:
I love The 74 -- they (generally) do an outstanding job, with news and opinion worth reading. I read all of it every day and point people to their perspective whenever I can.

However, the appropriate academic term for this Math 2.0 video series is "absolute horseshit."
You can say that again.

In the first minutes of "Math 2.0," we learn that "Common Core math" teaches children to subitize.

"Subitizing" means you see 3 pennies and immediately know you have 3 pennies. You don't have to count.

Subitizing, as it happens, is an innate ability. Chimpanzees can subitize, too; in fact, chimps do it better than humans. They can subitize up to the number 6. We stop at 5.

I'm pretty sure I remember that all creatures can do it, but I'm not going to spend 15 minutes Googling "Can goldfish subitize" to find out.

Another thing: I'm having a hard time believing that formal instruction in subitizing is part of the Common Core, but I'm not going to Google that, either.


Still here

But just barely.

Endless book revisions, local property tax calamity, house fixing-upping -----

I need an island get-away.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Is Common Core increasing direct instruction?

I don't know the answer to that question. I'm asking.

My new copy of Education Week has a front-page story titled "Will the Common Core Step Up Schools' Focus on Grammar?"

I find that interesting (I have yet to read) because I'd been wondering the same thing about direct instruction after seeing the graphics in Ed Week's story Kindergarten Today: Less Play, More Academics.

By the way, I have no particular position on Kindergarten on way or the other. In my day, Kindergarten was .... well, what was it? I remember sitting at tables with other children, going out to recess, and sitting on the rug to listen to show and tell. We didn't learn to read.

Siegfried Engelmann taught academic skills to pre-school children, which served them well, so I'm certainly not against direct instruction in academic skills at that age.

My point in posting is that this looks to me like a significant change in the direction I definitely want to see for first grade and up, and I wonder how real, and how widespread, this change is. My own district is all constructivism all the time now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chicago statement

In The Economist:
WHEN Louisiana State University fired a professor in June 2015 for using rude words in a class designed to prepare teachers for careers in inner-city schools, it was an early skirmish in a conflict between students (one of whom had complained) and faculties over free speech that has since spread across the land. The university’s faculty is now considering something that others in the same position have done: copying the University of Chicago.

In response to a number of universities cancelling invitations to controversial speakers and challenges to academic freedom, Geoffrey Stone of Chicago’s law school was appointed chair of a committee that would restate its principles on free speech. The statement was issued a year ago, shortly before the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication, for its cartoons of Muhammad.

Since then the debate over permissible speech on college campuses has only become more contentious. A website,, lists speech-curbing demands from students at 72 institutions. Administrators are tying themselves in knots in an effort to balance a commitment to free expression with a desire not to offend.

One consequence of this has been to call attention to the Chicago Statement, which has been adopted by Purdue, Princeton, American University, Johns Hopkins, Chapman, Winston-Salem State and the University of Wisconsin system, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), a pro free-speech non-profit which is actively promoting it. It is brief (three pages) and emphatic.

“It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” it states. “Concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable.” The responsibility of a university, it concludes, is not only to promote “fearless freedom of debate”, but also to protect it.

The committee gave much consideration to concerns about “hate speech” and “micro-aggressions”. Whatever harm such expression caused, it concluded, should be redressed by “individual members of the university…openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose,” rather than by censorship.

The widening adoption of the statement came as a surprise, says Mr Stone, because it was built upon the college’s own history, including a controversial invitation by students in 1932 to William Z. Foster, then the Communist Party candidate for president. The proper response to unpopular ideas, responded then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins, “lies through discussion rather than inhibition”. In 1967, during protests over civil rights and the Vietnam war, and demands that the university itself should take a stand, a faculty committee chaired by Harry Kalven, one of Mr Stone’s professors, concluded that would be wrong: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic”.
From what I can see, suppression of speech on campus is as bad as it looks; nothing I've read in news accounts is exaggerated.

So I'm rooting for the Chicago statement.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wisdom of the crowd

I opened my Wall Street Journal app this morning to see this:
The campaign in Iowa performed its usual task of starting the long process of winnowing out the presidential field, but it failed to fully resolve this year’s underlying mystery: Why are voters toying with radical change at a time when, objectively speaking, the country isn’t in bad shape?

Why Iowans Entertain Radical Messages from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Amid Seeming Prosperity By GERALD F. SEIB
I can answer that.

"Objectively speaking," this time is different.

This time, the country didn't recover from the recession. In every other recession of the 20th century, including the Great Depression, economic growth went back to trend.

This time, no.

Yet only the people seem to know it.

They're not happy.

*Perhaps the 19th century as well -- I don't know the history.


Blast from the past!

I'm watching the Iowa caucuses on CNN ... and the announcer is in Coralville.

I lived in Coralville!

I don't recognize the building they're showing .....

Very fun.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Most emailed

I have no doubt Adam Grant's op-ed on raising a creative child, which ran in yesterday's Times, is being emailed to teachers across the land:
Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world....

What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet “only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. “Those who do must make a painful transition” to an adult who “ultimately remakes a domain.”

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.


SINCE Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000-hour rule” suggesting that success depends on the time we spend in deliberate practice, debate has raged about how the hours necessary to become an expert vary by field and person. In arguing about that, we’ve overlooked two questions that matter just as much.

First, can’t practice itself blind us to ways to improve our area of study? Research reveals that the more we practice, the more we become entrenched — trapped in familiar ways of thinking. Expert bridge players struggled more than novices to adapt when the rules were changed; expert accountants were worse than novices at applying a new tax law.


Hear that, Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads? You can’t program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.

How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off by Adam Grant | 1/31/2016
Creativity good, practice bad.

Oh, man.

Setting aside the mischief this is going to do, how many "adult geniuses who change the world" do we actually need?

And how often does a lone genius change the world?

Should all expert physicians "fight to fix a broken medical system"?

Should all expert attorneys "try to transform the laws themselves"? (All of the laws?)

As to the rigidity of experts, which is a real phenomenon, the solution isn't to get rid of experts.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"9-minute read" - "Recovered or not"

I've mentioned several times that I became a macro aficionado after the crash -- a macro aficionado and a Fed watcher, heaven help me.

Macro is off-topic for kitchen table math but, then again, most of us here:

a) have jobs;
b) are married to someone who has a job;
c) used to have jobs;


d) are the parents of children who have jobs, don't have jobs, or will need to get a job one day.

So: jobs.

I've just come across this "9-minute read" from Third Way, and I think it may be the best I've seen. I say that as a person who has read approximately a gazillion articles, studies, blog posts, and white papers on the subject of unemployment in the wake of the Great Recession at this point.

According to Third Way, depending on how you measure unemployment, we are either nine-tenths, two-tenths or just over halfway to a full jobs recovery.

Recovered or Not: What’s Really Happening with U.S. Unemployment?

Meanwhile the Hamilton Jobs Gap Calculator says we are still 2.5 million jobs short.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Is math by hand better than math by keyboard?

Sorting books this afternoon, I came across Tahir Yaqoob's What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? and found this passage:
The actual process of using your muscles to write something is a powerful long-term memory aid. The more that you write out things (and in different ways), the more your long-term memory will be etched out. It is not good enough simply to read and think (although this is important for reviewing large amounts of material shortly before taking an exam, but only if you have done the long-term ground work). Writing out full solutions to problems in math is especially important compared to other subjects, whether it is part of reviewing for exams or whether you are learning new material.

Writing things out can also help you to understand difficult problems. For example, if you see a fully worked solution to a problem in a textbook, but don't understand one or more of the steps, try simply writing out the solution yourself. You may be surprised that while you are doing that, you suddenly understand something that you didn't before. Sometimes the brain has a strange way of working. Despite its enormous capacity , the. brain can really benefit from an external "scratch pad." When you come across something that you don't understand, sometimes just writing out the steps in a brief form can make a great deal of difference.

What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? Paperback – February 7, 2011 by Tahir Yaqoob - p133
I've always found this to be true, both for C. and for me. I don't know why. One of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, which I hope will explain the phenomenon.

The OECD report on students and technology (Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection) found that using the computer for drill was associated with reduced achievement:
The decline in performance associated with greater frequency of certain activities, such as chatting on line at school and practicing and drilling, is particularly large (Figure 6.6). Students who frequently engage in these activities may be missing out on other more effective learning activities. Students who never or only very rarely engage in these activities have the highest performance.
Given my experience, the "other more effective learning activities" these students are missing may be drilling by hand.