The Virginian-Pilot excitedly reported (March 9): “New math, science let kids learn by exploring.”
Lectures are out. Discovery, Guided Math, Problem-Based Learning, Project-Based Learning, Self-Directed Learning, and Constructivism are in.
The basic idea is that kids will figure out everything for themselves, if the teachers will stay out of the way. Virginia Beach schools paid a consultant from Harvard to come here and tell them that.
An assistant superintendent boasted, “Math has to have meaning, and you do that by making it real to them.”
A teacher gushed, “Guided math encourages self-directed learning and collaboration, and allows them to practice at their individual skill levels...Students love it.”
The article is misleading in two important respects:
1) There’s nothing new. In 1897, John Dewey started his famously unsuccessful Laboratory School where children spent the day sewing clothes, cooking meals, and building a house. That’s the gist of the Discovery method.
In 1955, Joan Dunn, a Brooklyn school teacher, published a book titled “Retreat from Learning.” Dunn wanted to chronicle the misery and failure she had to deal with every day because of John Dewey’s progressive methods.
Joan Dunn neatly obliterates the Project-Based Learning (PBL) fad. She quotes a teacher saying, “I don’t understand why you bother to give tests at all. Just get yourself a good project and mark that. It takes nearly all term to do and the kids think they’re working hard and there’s less work for mother. Be smart.” Even 60 years ago, the much-ballyhooed “project” was a way of avoiding education, and tests.
Furthermore, the math items mentioned by the article were introduced in New Math (1965) or in Reform Math (starting about 1985.) These are two of the most reviled curricula in the country’s history. We’re still stuck with many of the components.
2) The article is also misleading in suggesting that these old ideas have been successful. They were not successful when John Dewey introduced them. They were not successful when Joan Dunn had to fight them in a tough public school.
These methods fail for a simple reason. There is a lot of apparent activity; but there is not enough learning in the old-fashioned sense. Kids can graduate and go to college not knowing what 7 x 8 is, where Alaska is on a map, or who George Washington was. Everyone should want education to be new and improved, but not so much so that content is left out.
The newspaper article quotes an official from the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM), an organization complicit in all of these dubious curricula, as saying, “You can have a lot of skills but if you don’t have a deeper understanding of what’s going on, the skills are going to sell you short.” (Translation: don't worry about skills.)
This statement may be disingenuous. Most of these kids never acquire any skills. They quickly learn to depend on their calculators, and that they hate math.
The drift of all the fancy jargon is that kids can play around all day (more or less what kids do on weekends or during the summer). But not many kids get a deep education that way. It’s up to the adults to make education happen. Younger students, especially, need to learn a lot quickly.
Finally, the point of education is to enable students to move quickly to correct answers. But this glowing report in the Virginian-Pilot celebrates the hunt for “strategies,” not the same thing at all.
The key fact, left out of the report, is that John Dewey and all of his successors were far-left ideologues. They wanted to create a miniature socialist society in the schools. Whether the kids knew anything was not the big priority. Children must learn to be cooperative. That was a very big deal for John Dewey.