Math needs have changed

Friday, October 31, 2003

By Carol Keen

I've read with interest the recent guest columns by Avelina Lichtenegger and Raj Marasini regarding the new math curriculum adopted by the Jackson School District.

It always intrigues me when adults feel qualified to critique the practices of professional educators because they were once students. We all know education hasn't changed and students today are just as we were back then.

I've studied psychology, literature, medicine and athletics, yet I would not presume to offer advice to any of these professions.

Lichtenegger is a teacher and raises valid points about parental help and multidigit multiplication. But what are Marasini's qualifications? As he pointed out, he was educated overseas and made reference to other leading or Third World countries. Is he comparing the same categories of students? Does his country offer free education for all students as the United States does, or does his country only educate the brightest and leave the rest to fend for themselves?

What of my qualifications? I am a product of the public school system and have been a mathematics teachers for the past 25 years. Yet even I would hesitate to offer advice on issues in elementary mathematics education based solely on my personal educational experiences in the 1960s. I would need a great deal of study or further information.

My years of study have focused on secondary mathematics education, and that is the only area in which I would venture an opinion. But in that area I know the "old way" isn't always the best.

Students don't all think or learn alike. Just last week one of my students found a solution to a routine problem in a way that I hadn't ever experienced. No doubt Lichtenegger and Marasini learned fine the old way, but what about the rest of the population?

The world is changing, and the mathematics needed for today's workplace is vastly different from just 20 years ago. Today we are educating students for a society 10 to 20 years in the future.

The next time you want to take a punch at education or educators, come visit my classroom for several days and see what education is like in 2003. It just might be different from what you remember.

Carol Keen of Jackson is a mathematics teacher at Jackson High School.

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