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Thursday, September 14, 2006

MATH: Back to right answers?

Debra J. Saunders reports that, in an apparent stunning reversal of decades of misdirection, educrats have now decided that junior students should just learn the correct answers in math class.

For example, 9 x 9 = 81. Period.

It's not worth arguing about, any more than the alphabet is. You learn it so you can learn other things. Some of those other things, incidentally, are very much worth arguing about.

But the student must acquire basic skills before he or she knows enough to comprehend, let alone take part in, an argument.

The story is that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, in an apparent policy switch, now thinks that Grade Fours should know multiplication and division tables.

In keeping with the NCTM's emphasis on children writing about math, developers of a California assessment test told graders to give more credit to students who got the wrong answer to a math question (but wrote a better essay) than students who gave the right answer without the right prose. California elementary schools scarfed up MathLand, a trendy program that pooh-poohed exercises with "predetermined numerical results."


Saunders isn't sure just how serious the current teachers' lobby really is about rejecting fuzzy math in favor of correct math, nor am I. But I hope parents and taxpayers help out by frogmarching the lobby down the correct path, on which they have now begun. It bodes well for education.

That, by the way, is one reason why I have never been enthusiastic about the initiatives taken by various American school boards to warn students away from Darwinian evolution. Yes, yes, Darwinism's a dead duck. It is promoted principally for ideological purposes, and anti-religious ones at that. In the form of social Darwinism, it has some stinky associates and in the form of persecution of non-Darwinian scientists, it has a stinky history. So I completely understand why the school boards and parents are concerned, and I wish them well.

But , all that said, I maintain my objections for the following reason: We do no favor to students who cut classes to smoke in the can when we act as though they can easily understand problems with Darwinism. These are the same kids who need a calculator to add up a shopping bill, don't know whether Canada is north or south of the United States, can't name the three branches of the US government, and are not disciplined for being rude to teachers. I could go on, but why bother?

I'm old-fashioned, so I believe students should earn the right to dissent from their teachers' views. The principle way they should earn it is by being good students. They should learn the material they wish to dissent from. Incidentally, this idea is not unique to me. I remember Phillip E. Johnson, the widely hated "godfather" of the ID guys, making exactly that point at a conference in Los Angeles in 2004 - and the pro-ID audience agreed with it. That is, students should definitely be taught Darwinian theory, and if they learn it, they earn the right to disagree with it in an intellectually principled way.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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