The Wrong Way to Teach Math (and Other Subjects)

In the New York Times Sunday Review on Feb 28, Andrew Hacker published an article (p. 2) checkmark imagescalled “The Wrong Way to Teach Math,” based on his forthcoming book The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions. It begins with this remarkable statement:

“Most Americans have taken high school mathematics, including geometry and algebra, yet a national survey found that 82 percent of adults could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price.”

Hacker, who teaches political science and mathematics at Queens College in New York, argues that while “calculus and higher math have a place…it’s not in most people’s everyday lives.” Students need to learn “numeracy” or “quantitative literacy”: “figuring out the real world – deciphering corporate profits or what a health plan will cost.”

I (Clive) find Hacker’s ideas and examples very helpful and plan to buy his book. But it occurs to me that similar things could be said about other subjects such as literacy (reading, writing, literature), history, science, etc. While “academic” aspects of these subjects have to be taught to prepare students for later education and (possibly) work settings, teachers need to do both (as I have posted before). It isn’t appropriate just to focus on Shakespeare and classical novels, for example, and not prepare students to find enjoyment and make wise choices in their everyday fiction and non-fiction reading.

Addressing both – the academic and the everyday – is not easy, given the extensive subject content teachers are expected to cover; but in teaching and teacher education this should be our goal, and over the years we should move as far as humanly possible in this direction.


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