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Basic Skills and Understanding

To the editor, Education Week

Editor,

It is disappointing to see--again--the mindless repetition "In
mathematics, some want to emphasize basic skills, such as memorizing
multiplication tables and mastering basic computational skills, while
others advocate instruction that builds students' understanding of
mathematical concepts before working on basic skills." (Bush to Push
for Math and Science Upgrade, Nov. 20, 2002)

One would expect that after so many years of covering the "math wars",
David Hoff would realize that this is a false dichotomy promulgated by
people who do not believe that all children--and minority children in
particular--can handle a normal program of mathematics.

Both sides want children to understand and know mathematics. The
difference being that the reformists believe this can be done without
children mastering the fundamental arithmetic and algebra behind it,
while the traditionalists realize that this is akin to expecting
children to play Mozart without knowing the scales, or perform in a
play without reading the script.

Ze'ev Wurman

Palo Alto, CA

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