Teaching a Love of Mathematics

A few weeks ago, NCTM President Linda M. Gojak posted her final message as president entitled “A Reflection on 25 Years in Mathematics Education.” You can follow the link to read the article in its entirety. In this message Gojak outlines from her perspective what the mathematics education community has accomplished over the last 25 years and what challenges still need to be addressed. I will let you determine for yourself how much you agree with her assessments. What I am most interested in is her closing remark:

B. F. Skinner famously said, “We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement.” With apologies to Skinner, as mathematics educators we might say, “We should not just teach mathematics, we should teach a love of mathematics. Knowing the content of some mathematics is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to see the beauty in mathematics and to go on doing mathematics are great achievements.”

We should teach a love of mathematics.

Knowing the content of some mathematics is a trivial achievement.

I agree with both of these statements, as I believe the majority of math educators would. However, these two statements get to the heart of the issue with the state of mathematics education today: while the majority of educators would agree on the sentiments of these two statements, both statements run contradictory to the current system of mathematical standards and assessments.

If we really believe that our goal as educators is to teach a love of mathematics (which I should note is a very different thing than saying every student has to love math) then we as a community of educators need to actually determine how to go about doing so. Because trust me, focusing on core standards/higher order thinking/critical reasoning/whatever you want to call increased cognitive demands, will not influence people’s affections. The issue is much more complex than that. We are talking about teaching love, beauty, truth to human beings created in the image of God.

I will have a lot more to say on this issue in the coming weeks/months/years as this is essentially the focus of my dissertation research. For now I will leave you to contemplate Gojak’s closing remark and consider why the underlying sentiment of the remark does not appear anywhere else in her summary of math education’s “accomplishments” and challenges.

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One thought on “Teaching a Love of Mathematics

  1. Scott Eberle (@ScottEberle1) April 26, 2014 / 6:26 AM

    Very interesting about Gojak not following up her initial comment in her list of accomplishments and challenges!

    In 2001, the National Research Council came out with an excellent report called “Adding It Up” which recommended including five “strands” in mathematics education: conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition. Though we have continued to highlight the first two, I agree with you that in the current climate of standards and assessments in the U.S., the fifth strand is getting completely lost. The new Common Core Standards mention “Adding It Up” as a source for their eight practice standards, even listing the five strands, but then fail to include productive disposition in any of the eight practice standards. High stakes assessments do not test for such disposition in students, which therefore pressures teachers to exclude such a goal. Students have traditionally not been taught to appreciate mathematics as beauty and truth, and the current trend continues to exclude these ideas.

    Christians should not fall into the trap of following this example of appreciating math only for its utilitarian value. I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

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