The New York Post
Sunday, April 22, 2001
Letters from Anthony Belcastro, Montrose; F. Joseph Merlino, Lansdowne, Pa.; Georgia Craig, Sudbury, Mass.; Roy Moskowitz, Manhattan; Robert Bell, Brooklyn; David Rindskopf, Manhattan.
[Note: Joseph Merlino is Project director, Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project, La Salle University; Roy Moskowitz is Counsel, Community School District 2. -nychold]
April 22, 2001 -- Thank you for your expose on the "New Math" that our administrators are attempting to bring into the classroom ("School's Mathematics Don't Add Up," Rod Dreher, April 8). As usual, the liberal teachers feel that they have a right to change the rules without consulting us, the parents. That said, it is up to parents to make sure that our children are taught in a manner that is proper and leaves them ready to take on new challenges.
The amount of misinformation and downright bias in Rod Dreher's column is truly astounding. It is simply not true that PS 234 doesn't teach basic techniques for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. It is not true that correct answers are "out." It is not true that the math program in PS 234 is a "fad." And it is not true that this program turns kids into math illiterates. These are all inflammatory lies designed to get publicity for people with other axes to grind, plain and simple.
F. Joseph Merlino
The "new math" is exactly the same as the "whole language" experiment. The children who would excel in math regardless, due to natural ability, will do extremely well. The children whose parents subsidize the erroneous technique with paid tutoring will "learn" as well. But for the majority of children whose parents depend solely upon the schools to teach academics, due to busy work schedules or parental dysfunction, these kids will learn frustration and disinterest, rather than math.
For anyone reading Rod Dreher's column, it is revealing to note his attack was based upon one unnamed parent at the school whose "head was spinning." Let's get real and look at the numbers, since that's what we're really talking about. Nearly 98 percent of the fourth graders tested in the school (up from 94 percent in 1999) met or exceeded state standards in mathematics.
As a school-board member who has been dealing with educational fads for eight years now, I read Rod Dreher's column with dejected amusement. These "new math" creators are largely the same people who brought you the old new math and the whole language experiment. I noted that they cite a study to support their claims. From experience, I would doubt there actually is a substantive study. They have cited studies supporting nonsense education for years, usually with the same adverse results.
As a professor who spends most of his time teaching statistics, I wholeheartedly accept your contention that "fuzzy" math should be banned from our schools. However, the example you gave from the school curriculum is not fuzzy at all. The three ways of multiplying 14 and nine are all very sensible approaches to understanding what that act of multiplication actually means. While drill-and-practice may still be necessary to some degree, and conceptual understanding may elude some, many students will find it less onerous to endure the tedium of practice when they understand what the problem they are solving represents in concrete terms.
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