[Squeakland] Panel discussion: Can the American Mind be Opened?

David Corking lists at dcorking.com
Sat Nov 24 02:25:04 PST 2007

Hi Alan, You digressed into 'new math' and I disagree

You wrote:
> Separate issues are: what parts of the real stuff should be taught to
> children, how should the teaching be done, etc. This is very important in
> its own right - recall the very bad choices made by real mathematicians when
> they chose set theory, numerals as short-hand for polynomials, etc. during
> the "new math" debacle.

When I was 16 I moved schools, and joined a cohort who had been
educated in the Schools Mathematics Project, a English incarnation of
'new math'.  I had kind of a traditional classical math education up
to that point, and I felt like a fish out of water for a few weeks.
My first impression was that my new classmates thought much more like
real mathematicians, and at first that seemed like a pointless stuffy
homage to academia.

Later I learned to enjoy the math for its own sake, but I had another
surprise a couple of years later.  The SMP kids seemed much better
equipped for the world of applied math at university and technical
college.  Set theory and number theory are vital for computer
scientists (as I understand), matrix algebra and numerical methods for
engineers.  So when I got to college (to study engineering), I was
glad to have had a chance to try my hand at real nineteenth century
math in high school.

By the way, I never learned, even today, any kind of general algebra
or shorthand for polynomials, so I cannot comment on that.

It didn't hurt that in those days, most math teachers in England were
math major graduates (so perhaps an example of the benefits of the
Hawthorne effect we discussed.)

By the way, the SMP still exists in a cut down form:
It didn't go down in a public fireball like 'new math' in the US, but
instead seems to have been quietly squashed by the all powerful
National Curriculum steamroller.

Best, David

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