Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Mathematics Teaching A Closed Book?

Hans Freudenthal

A. Dean Hendrickson

It's never a good idea to get involved in a fight with an Internet "ghost." But if you play in the sty formerly known first as and now called, ironically,, you can't avoid it. One of the more prolific voices there is a fellow who posts under the name of "Haim Pipik" (if you don't "get" the Yiddishism, you're not missing much). However, a few of us who've been around the Math Wars for more than a decade know him better as Edmond David (6th from left standing), a resident of Brooklyn, erstwhile member of NYC-HOLD, self-identified "NYC parent," and a fellow who doesn't mind slinging mud, pushing his quasi-libertarian, transparently right wing and vehemently anti-liberal agenda behind his pseudonym. All in all, not the most courageous guy in the Math Wars or any other battle: by their lack of courage shall ye know them, I suppose.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't bring the empty slings and dull arrows of this outrageous fellow to my blog, but the fellow has been most insistently issuing a phony challenge on math-teach that is worth mentioning, though not necessarily getting involved with (I am, for my own purposes, but I don't suggest anyone reading this who isn't already wasting time on that list head there to see Ed/Haim in action: it's not really worth your time.

The nature of "Haim's Challenge" is his claim that "there are no open questions of mathematics pedagogy." He has his own reasons for making this claim that ostensibly have to do with the discourse on math-teach and his own agenda which primarily seems to be to assail public education at every turn, call for privatization, vouchers, dismantling public schools (if I understand him correctly, anyway), and blaming all our educational woes on unions, education professors, progressive educators, bad policy makers, etc., all of whom he lumps together alternately as "the Education Mafia," "Educational Mullahs," and similar witticisms. Our Haim is short on proof that any such entities exist, of course, but when you're arguing by name-calling, what need you evidence to offer?

Regardless, I am curious as to how readers of this blog feel about his fundamental claim, which he extends to the broader one that clearly he is right because "no one is interested in discussing math teaching; no active conversations are in evidence;" and so on.

Of course, I think this is arrant nonsense, but maybe I have a distorted understanding of what one is to make of the literature in mathematics education or the lists, web sites and blogs I frequent where concerns about pedgogy and the relationship between content and how to effectively teach it (be it to oneself, home schooled kids, or students in more traditional school settings) so as to improve learning are very much in evidence. Add to that active research programs by mathematics educators at universities and other institutions throughout the world and it's hard to imagine how anyone could offer a less accurate, more patently false claim.

But what do YOU think? Is mathematics teaching a closed book? Do we know all we need know about how to teach math? Is Haim/Ed right? And if not, what are some important open questions about mathematics pedagogy you are pursuing or would like to discuss with others?

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