Singapore has a very different way
Learning does not occur at its highest level if it is not accompanied by morality.of teaching math than does the United States. Utah legislators are suggesting that improve Utah students' math scores, we need to emulate Singapore.
It's a new twist on an old meme that is drawing serious attention from lawmakers, education administrators and mathematicians who are concerned that Utahns are not prepared for the high-paying jobs of the future. After failing to get a task force funded during the 2008 legislative session, Sens. Margaret Dayton and Howard Stephenson instead put together a loose-knit group to figure out a formula to escape the death spiral of math grades. While they're still a couple of months from taking their suggestions public, the hope is that Utah will become a destination for employers in need of employees with high-level math skills.I think Professor Wright and the Legislators are onto something. They see the fluff in U.S. math books, and they realize that it's counterproductive. It is--but in more ways than they might think.
David Wright is a BYU professor of mathematics who has long led the charge for reform. He says the American way of learning, at least in the early years, has become cumbersome. He contrasts current elementary text books with the lauded system used in Singapore. The American book is 600 pages and contains images of basketball stars and sports cars in an attempt to relate to students. Math problems are often "real life" problems.
The Singapore books (two of them at 125 pages each) focus mostly on algorithms and practice problems without the extraneous language and scenarios.
Learning does not occur at its highest
Our definition of "real life" in the United States has become very adulterated. "Reality television shows" incorporate minute fractions of the population doing almost nothing that the rest of us would ever think of doing, while the rest of us look on as voyeurs. This is immoral. I'll bet Singapore children don't spend much time watching reality shows.level if it is not accompanied by morality. Yesterday, when speaking to BYU employees, family, and friends at the annual University Conference, President Cecil O. Samuelson stated that personal morality enhances our ability to learn.
Brigham Young University is rather unique in this regard. While BYU focuses on issues of morality, such as self-restraint, sexual purity, respect for values and the rule of law, and love of cultural heterogeneity, most schools teach that if it feels right, you should do it, that "I" receive fulfillment by placing "my" values above anyone else's, and that American culture trumps all others. What nearly all schools teach that use that use "images of basketball stars and sports cars" is a disregard for everyday morality.
President Samuelson also stated that learning and creativity are linked to morality causally, not casually.
According to Samuelson, BYU also teaches that
- We don't have to believe what isn't true, meaning that we should prove to ourselves whether something is or is not true.
- Reason and revelation reinforce each other. While we can learn a great deal by using reason and logic, we won't learn as much if we exclude the promptings and infusions of knowledge from a Higher Power.
- Students should be exhilarated by their ability to inquire, create, and research.
- Everyone should learn to love to learn.
Advocates of parenthood planning and "if it feels good do it" belittle every scientific study that indicates that abstinence-based education does reduce sexual promisuity, heartbreak, and disease. This is immoral.
An attendee of to the National Democratic Convention claimed on the Liberty Roundtable Radio program yesterday that it's okay to worship Barack Obama, because millions already worship football players, sports car drivers, and rock stars. All of these are immoral.
So yes, let's change Utah's math curriculum. It's going to cause a great deal of blowback, because most school children have learned to enjoy being entertained, including (as much as possible) by their school assignments. A change of curriculum, however, to one more akin to the Singapore model, will help them improve their learning in two ways: (1) it will encourage students to focus on the tools of mathematics, and (2) it will discourage them from salivating at the immoral prospect of the (not so) "real life", complete with fast cars and celebrity. We do need more intellectual rigor in our studies, but I think we need more moral rigor as well.
Far more important than BYU's athletic successes are its successes in other areas. BYU is highly recognized in the scientific, political, religious, legal, and business fields. This recognition comes in great part because of individual and collective adherence by BYU employees and students to the principles of morality.
That's what Utah's school children need--a legislature, parents, and a state office of education that teach that morality is paramount. Perhaps they need this more than they need a new math curriculum.