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Education

How ‘Educational Research’ Distorts Math Teaching

(Pixabay)

A great many terrible ideas for K-12 education have originated in our colleges and universities. That is where the “research” and “deep thinking” into how best to teach young students is done. To paraphrase a bumper sticker, “If Kids Can’t Read, Thank a Professor.”

In today’s Martin Center article, Duke University professor John Staddon looks at the way one of the supposed experts on the teaching of math turns it into an exercise in racial politics. Specifically, Staddon analyzes a presentation by Professor Deborah Lowenberg Ball of the University of Michigan School of Education. He writes, “Ball sets the scene with a slide that reads: ‘But our efforts to make change are still high-risk for reproducing patterns of racism and marginalization. Let’s look.’ Apparently we are to see in the children’s answers and teachers’ responses to questions about fractions, ‘patterns of racism and marginalization.’ Racism, omnipresent, like a virus, infects us all.”

Rather than explaining how best to teach fractions to students, the focus becomes a host of lefty cliches about racial groups and oppression. How does any of that help? It just makes Ball look virtuous to her audience.

Staddon continues:

The radical presumptions of education research leader Deborah Ball are amply documented and probably widely accepted in the field. They seem to be as follows.

  1. Math education is not about math, but about “racial justice”.  Any disparity disfavoring blacks or women is unjust.

  2. The most important thing about both students and teachers is their race.

  3. Students are all equally able, indeed “black girls are brilliant.” Tests that seem to reveal differences reflect the “scientific racism of measurement.”

  4. The teacher’s primary role, even in math, is to discern each student’s “contribution”, so as not to “position” the student as failing—only positive reinforcement is allowed.

  5. The teacher and the student are collaborators in the “collective work” of the class. Evidently math competence is a group skill, like marching in a band, not an individual competence.

  6. It is wrong for a teacher to correct a student if her behavior does not bother other students: the students set the rules, not the teacher.

With educational friends like Ball, minority students don’t need any enemies.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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