Follow us:

Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 17, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Math textbooks

Methods epitomize nonnegotiable truth

When the Seattle School Board adopted the “Discovering” math texts, I was disappointed but not surprised [“School Board fails math test,” Opinion, Bruce Ramsey column, May 13].

I am a math instructor at Renton Technical College. I used to work as a tutor for high-school-age students at University Tutoring Service near the University of Washington. While working as a tutor, I was always uncomfortable when students would show up with one of the modern “discovery”-style math texts. Often, I would spend half of our session just figuring out what they were studying and what they were expected to do with it. This was embarrassing and frustrating.

Compare the “discovery” method of learning math with a violin class. Try to imagine a violin teacher telling students to “discover” how to hold their instrument. No competent musician would advocate such an approach. Imagine a golf pro suggesting that students “discover” the best way to swing a club, or a swimming coach having students “discover” their own swim strokes.

This raises an important question: Why has math, a time-honored discipline comparable to playing a violin, golfing or swimming, been singled out for this treatment? It has to do with a certain modern mindset — the belief that all truth is negotiable and that if students are taught to negotiate their own truth at an early age they will be more amenable to this approach as adults.

Math, with its axioms and proofs, smacks of nonnegotiable truth. How are we to convince little budding relativists that there is no such thing as objective truth when they have an apparent example at their fingertips?

— Scott Wall, Vashon

Comments | More in Math

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►