You’ll find a stash of my postings on math-teach (Forum 206), a so-called listserv hosted by the Math Forum on the internet.
I’m hoping the archive is still around when you find this Medium posting, as many besides me poured their hearts and souls into it.
However the repartee was often acrimonious, mixed with jokes and wry humor. We fought the Math Wars. We did some math. The powers that be found they no longer had a budget for endless war. They’d keep the lights on in the museum, for future tourists.
Nowadays, everything has become politicized thanks to Youtubers (and others) helping everyone connect the dots.
Resistance to any one particular curriculum is almost guaranteed to run high, if parents stay suspicious of it.
“Don’t experiment on my kids!” goes the injunction. However there’s no avoiding the fact that we’re always experimenting, including with serving some status quo.
Sometimes we serve a status quo well passed the pull date (meaning after it’s stale or no otherwise no longer savory). Surrendering to inertia has its price.
A big experiment in Common Core Standards in Mathematics (CCSM) was to restrict itself to Base 10. I could not, in good conscience, sign on to such an agenda.
Of course I’m familiar with the rejoinder: that CCSM was never meant to define a perimeter. There’s no outer boundary to what one might cover. CCSM is one tent pole among many. Design your tent to include it, but not only it. I get it.
We‘re free to add layers around the core to whatever depth our school finds suitable.
The government was somehow sending the message that Base 10 was enough, both necessary, and in terms of passing state mandated tests, sufficient.
Implicit in this message is at least some math teachers could get public jobs wherein mastery of bases other than 10 was not required.
Take computer science if you want hexadecimals and binary.
As a former high school math teacher, that looked like two much of a concession. How would the concept of “Base 10” itself ever gain traction, without some lessons, some units, devoted to positional notation in a more general sense, with other bases as examples? What about date and time: won’t we share those as “mixed base”?
I had this training in the 1960s, as a student of the New Math in the first and second grades (by third grade, I was in a British system). We did unions and intersections of sets. We learned positional notation using an abacus. We learned about other bases (yes, that early).
Now that you know my history, you may write off my objections as generational. As a child of the early 1960s, I was the subject of experimentation. My biases became hardwired.
The University of Chicago was looking for ways to protect the homeland against the advance of Communism, the falling dominoes.
My generation received the New Math indoctrination, which was heavy on bases and truth tables (Boolean logic). We were fighting the Cold War.
No wonder I have a problem connecting with current Common Core and its “base 10 only” orientation. That’s to be expected of New Math spawn. To me, CCSM looks like a scary dumbing down.
Rather than surrender all our bases (except 10) to computer science, I continued fighting for Gnu Math, a pun of sorts.
I was pointing back to our shared parentage and heritage in GNU. The GNU is Not Unix project was the “design science revolution” of a generation of engineers and grad students working together.
“Revolution OS” we called it, check out the movie by that name.
With software pricing no longer a barrier, math teachers would be free to explore the mathematical underbelly of computer science. They would have a field day mastering the bash shell and Python, with all its 3rd party libraries.
Those with bigger budgets could license Mathematica.
My focus actually took me into orbit around both Python and Mathematica, as for awhile our code school was prepping to morph into a full scale university. That proved an ambitious plan.
My work was on the Python side of the business, but I had a healthy respect for the Mathematica side. I was no longer a high school teacher. This was a lot more like college. My students were adults. I’d moved from pedagogy to andragogy.
I’m just one voice in the wilderness though, and the preponderance of opinion was on the side of keeping math teachers away from computers and away from hexadecimals, Unicode, databases, graphs (networks), the whole nine yards.
Computer science had bitten a big chunk out of math at the university level and the tech giants had the muscle to push that electric fencing into the lower grades.
Students would learn a lot of things twice under the new regime. You’d need coordinate systems to do computer programming. You’d need coordinate systems to plot curves.
Two different departments would share the coordinate system road.
We’ve seen such topic sharing in the humanities, so what’s the problem? We read Shakespeare in English, but learn about Elizabethan England in History. The same names come up in multiple disciplines. Is that surprising? Not at all.
I admit it: I was participating in parochial turf battles, as a way of exploring my world, and constructing a model thereof. One understands the Math Wars better for having fought in them.
Even as a Friend (as in Quaker), my code of conduct permits this flavor of psychological combat.
I tried to defend high school mathematics from being routed by computer science.
My crusade brought me better intelligence, a deeper understanding of the terrain. I’m able to capitalize on that going forward. I don’t regret my years on math-teach.