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Canada shows U.S. how Education should be done

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Actually, not all of Canada, just the super-smart province of Manitoba.

At this time there is a great education war raging in Canada, and the province of Manitoba is showing itself to be the leader that Canada needs.

Just as remarkable, there is a Canadian newspaper reporting this debate in great detail. Typically, in American newspapers, there is no deep reporting on education, and no explanation about what intellectual issues are at stake.

A new story in the Edmonton Journal (in province of Alberta) is subheaded: “The great Canadian math debate, Part 38: Manitoba shows Alberta and Ontario the way to recovery.”

As reported by David Staples: “More than a year ago, the Manitoba government dumped major elements of the discovery/inquiry elementary math curriculum that it had developed and shared with Alberta.

“Now Manitoba’s Education Minister James Allum [see photo] is taking a swipe at Alberta for its ‘not as successful’ math curriculum.

“After adopting the discovery/inquiry math curriculum in the mid-to-late 2000s, Manitoba saw its number of math illiterate kids on international PISA testing rocket up.”

The big debate, in Canada and the US, is over how to teach arithmetic. Do you tell children how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, as children have been told for many centuries? Or do you practice what is called the inquiry method? Also known as constructivism or discovery. Also known as letting children wander helplessly in the dark for an extra few years while they try to figure out complicated things that very smart people have already figured out.

This lame method is used in the United States under the umbrella term “Reform Math” (actually a dozen different curricula) and under the rubric of Common Core.

Reform Math is one of the more egregious aspects of Common Core. These inferior methods refuse to teach anything directly, frustrate parents in their attempt to help children with their education, reduce children to tears, and lower math scores everywhere.

University of Manitoba math professor Robert Craigen and University of Winnipeg math professor Anna Stokke have outined a number of changes: Standard arithmetic will be taught. Memorization will be required. Practice will be necessary. Calculator use will be downplayed. Superior teaching material, such as JUMP Math, will be used. Most important, there will be a relentless emphasis on basic skills. (Note that Craigen and Stokke are professors of math, not of education, as is the case with the government consultants who wrote the unhelpful discovery/inquiry math curriculum.)

The newspaper article is pessimistic: “It’s going to take years to repair the harm done here in math education. Tens of thousands of students have now gone through years of inadequate training in standard arithmetic. As parents, educators and experts report, thousands and thousands of these students are now struggling with math. It will be no easy matter to give them the necessary teaching.”

On the other hand, “discovery” math has infiltrated just about every school in the United States, and any reversal it suffers anywhere is great news. Constructivist teaching in math, like Whole Word instruction in reading, is a huge problem in the schools.

The Edmonton Journal lists all the previous 37 parts with links. They provide a quick look at all the major issues in education.

Historical note: Manitoba’s capital is Winnipeg, the setting for one of the great early battles in education. Mary Johnson, a housewife, began to realize that her piano students could not read the names of the scores. This was around 1960 when women were supposed to stay home and be quiet. Mary Johnson was so indignant about what the schools were doing to Canadian children, she took on her country’s entire education establishment and won many battles. Her spirit is clearly alive and well in the province of Manitoba.
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