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Friday, June 29, 2018

For All the Benefits of Studying Mathematics, Some Critics See a Dark Side | Education - Pacific Standard

"Could the objective assurance in correct answers mandated in mathematics education teach students to be similarly calculating and assured when it comes to daily moral conundrums?" insist James McWilliams, Pacific Standard contributing writer, professor at Texas State University.

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It wasn't two weeks into summer vacation before my 16-year-old son's sojourn was interrupted by the arrival of a pre-calculus packet. The instructions contained within are clear enough: It is to be completed before August. It currently sits on our kitchen counter, a thick document of hieroglyphic-like symbols, eliciting glares of resentment while reminding us that math evidently matters a bit more than other subjects. Mathematics, University of Exeter education professor Paul Ernest once observed, "has a uniquely privileged status in education as the only subject that is taught universally and to all ages in schools." And, at least in my house, that schooling continues over the summer too.

What's with this never-ending pedagogical obsession with numbers? Perhaps the most common compliment math devotees pay their subject is that it's unambiguously logical. Somewhere among the infinite variety of wrong answers to a math problem, there's a right one, and discovering that sole nugget of truth is—as anyone who has successfully completed a proof knows—not only deeply satisfying, but math educators say it hones an array of problem solving skills relevant to negotiating real-world problems relevant to the global economy. Nations fret over their population's math literacy for good reason.

But could such impersonal and objective assurance in the "one correct answer"—as well as the means through which you reach it—teach students to be similarly calculating and assured when it comes to daily moral conundrums that do not lend themselves to such clarity? Might the overarching quest to find the "right" answer obscure the thornier possibility that we're trying to solve the wrong problems?

Source: Pacific Standard