Hispanic math

With help from a $10 million federal grant, the University of Arizona will try to make math instruction culturally and linguistically sensitive to Hispanics, thereby raising math achievement. The Tucson Citizen reports:

Among the goals of the new center are to create teaching materials and ways of teaching that bring in a cultural and linguistic context specific to Latinos, said Ron Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.

“Historically the dominant culture of the country has been western European and English. Curriculum materials reflect (those) cultural patterns, which isn’t good or bad, it just means that kids from those kinds of backgrounds tend to have more advantages because the content and the way it is delivered matches the way their culture represents the world and what they learn at home,” Marx said.

Educators can take advantage of the way Latinos express concepts of the world and the way they interact with parents and the community to build a better math program for them, Marx said.

“If you build on their home culture, then you are going to have more success,” he said.

Rosenblog thinks this is about teaching math in Spanish. I think it’s more devious than that. They’re going to come up with a “Hispanic way of knowing” math. None of that Anglocentric 2 + 2 = 4.

Linda Seebach, a former mathematician, describes “ethnomathematics” in this 2000 column. She quotes Ron Eglash of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:

“What goes under the name of multicultural mathematics is too often a cheap shortcut that merely replaces Dick and Jane counting marbles with Tatuk and Esteban counting coconuts,” he writes.

At least, 2 coconuts plus 2 coconuts equals 4 coconuts.

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Comments

  1. Aha, so THAT was the secret of Jaime Escalante’s success!

    I think not!

  2. D Anghelone says:

    Haven’t they sufficient Latino countries to look at for what works? Is the dominant culture of those countries western European and Spanish?

  3. Money, meet black hole.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If Pablo has two tacos and Conchita has a pound of beans….
    A whole new series of textbooks.

  5. $10 million! How cool is THAT? I’d be doing field studies of Mexican math instruction in several of their major urban centers, say Acapulco or Cozumel….

  6. mike from oregon says:

    How whack – as far as I know (and remember) certain laws of the sciences aren’t affected by language. Gravity still works both in the Western European, Latino and even the Native Indian cultures. 1+1=2 in all those “cultures”. Ice still melts into water, Etc.

    And the dumb ideas just keep on rolling. It’s almost like the supermarket anymore – anything to get your money.

  7. Why can’t they just use the same culturally sensitive teaching methods designed for Asian students that have allowed Asians to outperform Anglos in math?

  8. Andy Freeman says:

    Why don’t the teach them with dinosaurs, space travel, wizards, and fantasy creatures?

  9. Doug Sundseth says:

    “Historically the dominant culture of the country has been western European and English.”

    Unless I’m mistaken, Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal are in western Europe. (Especially Portugal.) If the US has a western European culture as a result of historical immigration patterns, then surely the rest of the Americas do as well.

    Of course, in Marx* is using “western European” as a code phrase meaning “English-speaking, white”.

    Typical.

    Doug Sundseth

    * A fine western European name, even in the sense he uses the phrase. The fact that it has some (western European) cultural baggage is, I am sure, entirely coincidental.

  10. I’m with Slimedog: Let’s go!

  11. Shoot, I would’ve done it for $8M.

  12. Mike in Texas says:

    I want to be slimedog’s research assistant.

  13. Steve LaBonne says:

    Could NASA please hurry up and discover a sane planet to which we could emigrate?

  14. Sorry Steve, NASA’s budget was cut again this year: I guess there were too many stupid studies to fund…

  15. I was going to send a link to my post but I see you’ve already covered this.

    This is a counterexample to those who say assimilation is working.

    I’d imagine it’s also an attempt to create yet another ethnic power center and find jobs for Ethnic Studies graduates.

  16. This may not be waht they meant, but it could be part of it, and it is important. Other countries don’t do math like we do. Yeah — I was really freaked when I first watched the stepchild doing math in German. They don’t do long division or multiplication the way we do. I had a really hard time helping her, because the way I showed her to do the work was ‘wrong’. Well, I’m not a math person, but honestly, I think that if the method is sound, then it shouldn’t count — and if immigrant students have been trained differently, it behooves the faculty to at least know other methods that are acceptable elsewhere.

    As for the cultural sensitivity part, when we moved back to the states, NONE of the kid’s teachers would allow her to do work that was at a slightly lower level than where she’d been in the Hochschule in the way she was used to doing it. Why? it wasn’t right and they “didn’t understand it.” So she had to learn all new ways to do math she was completely able to do. She ended up falling behind, not because she couldn’t work the problems, but she couldn’t learn to work the problems like a Murcan. So much for cultural sensitivity and caring about the actual educational experience.

  17. Working on Master's in Ed says:

    Scott, I’m gonna quote you on that one. Hilarious!

  18. For those interested in the “Eurpoean” method of long division I recommend the following sites.
    http://mathforum.org/t2t/thread.taco?thread=4130

    In a nutshell Europeans do division the same way they just write it out differently on the paper. I don’t know how old Another Damned Medeivalist’s daughter is but making the switch to the American form should not have been that hard, and he should have been able to help her. By the way Algebra seems to be the same in both places but the British do sometimes use the “left hand rule” when dealing with vectors. And I have seen the independentt variable on the vertical axis.

  19. Richard Nieporent says:

    Educators can take advantage of the way Latinos express concepts of the world and the way they interact with parents and the community to build a better math program for them, Marx said.

    Groucho or Karl?

  20. Although I often side with Joanne’s take on educational matters, I agree with Matt on this one. The general way in which we teach math in my opinion is in need of reform.

    If anything, I think we just fear that the Spanish-speaking population might become dare I say stronger in math than the average Anglo? Could be. Then again maybe not. Still, sometimes I think our conservative ticklers unnecessarily put us in hypersensitive defense mode.

    Even as a conservative, I’m not on the whole “anti-bilingual education” bandwagon. I think it’s silly, especially when compared to many other countries, our education standards are below excellence; even in private schools. I know high school sophomores in third-world countries who could think half our Harvard grads under the table.

    We graduate most American students with vague traces of conversational Spanish under their belt and that’s about it. Sorry to say, that’s leaving them ill-equipped to handle the direction in which our world is going.

    Americans are cocky in our attitude about education. It’s as though we think we’ve “arrived” at the sum of all eternal widsom in teaching. Sorry, far the heck from it.

  21. Richard Nieporent says:

    I know high school sophomores in third-world countries who could think half our Harvard grads under the table.

    Ambra, shall we just chalk up your previous post to hyperbole or do you really believe such nonsense? God knows there are a lot of things to criticize about the education system in the US (in fact, that is what Joanne’s blog is about), but when you make such outrageous claims, it doesn’t say much for you. How in the world did the US become the world’s technology leader if third world high school students are head and shoulders above Harvard graduates? Do you think it was all done with smoke and mirrors?

    Do you even have a basic understanding of mathematics? Do you think that there is English math, French math and Spanish math? Mathematics has nothing to do with the language spoken by the mathematician. It is a symbolic language that enables us to write equations that are able to describe the physical world from elementary particles to the whole Universe.

    Sorry to say, that’s leaving them ill-equipped to handle the direction in which our world is going.

    And what direction is that pray, tell?

  22. jeff wright says:

    Ambra: “I know high school sophomores in third-world countries who could think half our Harvard grads under the table.”

    Ambra, as Richard points out, you’re just full of shit. We bitch and moan about education—it’s what we do, after all—but the fact is, we turn out the best and brightest in the world, oftentimes despite the educational system. And if we don’t do it, we bring ’em in from the rest of the world to make us better. I would be very interested in learning what all of those top-notch HS sophomores are doing for their countries.

    And WRT the comment regarding American students not knowing Spanish, well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (as a person who’s acquired two foreign languages as an adult and who is also an accredited ESL teacher), there has traditionally been little reason for Americans to learn foreign languages—not when everybody else in the world is going crazy learning English. Americans don’t NEED to know Spanish. Latinos NEED to know English. Q.E.D.

    Direction in which the world is going? Spanish-speaking countries continue to languish in corruption and self-pity, leading the poor folks who live there to do anything to migrate north. Why would an American wish to learn Spanish unless he/she wants to provide services to all of those immigrants? Here, in the U.S.

    How many Americans are heading south? Be assured that if there are ever any significant opportunities south of the border, Americans will learn Spanish—and they will take over. Until then, it’s really just a boutique kind of thing.

  23. I’d need to sit down and figure out long division, because I usually divide things using multiplication and factoring: 187/12 = 120/12 + 60/12 + 7/12 = 10 + 5 + 7/12. Then, I’d repeat that using, for instance, 700/12.

    I demand that the educational establishment creates books and teaching plans and trains teachers in a race-based plan to be sensitive to my way of doing division.

    And, those who think this is just about math should do a bit more research first. This is about money, race-based power and ideology. The math is just one of their vehicles.

  24. Sorry, I can’t get with the “we churn out the best in the world” talk. Granted, yes the US is blessed to be the most advanced nation in the world. The focus here is on the opportunity. People come here for that very purpose. That said, in my extensive travels globally, I find that the minds of the young people there are 10 times more fertile than the “ADD” text-book thinkers we often produce at our top schools. And I spent all my life in private elite schools with bunches of white people who were merely textbooks smart. This is not to say that many of them won’t be running the nation in about 10 or so years. This is simply because of the opportunity available in this country.

    Countless immigrants come here and embarass the heck out of our students lazy American aptitude (the smart ones included).

    Do you think that good educational systems don’t exist in third world countries? Hardly. And if you have the preconceived notions perpetuated by biased “Feed the Children” media, then I feel sorry for you. For every poorest ruin and village in a country, there exists a wealthy elite middle and upper class who actually live “larger” than we do and if given the same opportunity available to us in our own country could singlehandedly outsmart us.

    And really folks, the personal attacks on how good I am at math is completely irrelevant, childish and petty. Let’s discuss the issues here, lest we begin acting like the liberal nemesis.

  25. Richard Nieporent says:

    You are right Ambra. It was silly of us to bring up the subject of mathematics just because it was the topic of this post.

    That said, in my extensive travels globally, I find that the minds of the young people there are 10 times more fertile than the “ADD” text-book thinkers we often produce at our top schools.

    Really? Would you care to share with us how you arrived at that number? Would that put our students at the idiot (0-19), imbecile (20-49) or moron (50-69) level?

    For every poorest ruin and village in a country, there exists a wealthy elite middle and upper class who actually live “larger” than we do and if given the same opportunity available to us in our own country could singlehandedly outsmart us.

    Sure they could. After all we are a country made up of idiots.

    And really folks, the personal attacks on how good I am at math is completely irrelevant, childish and petty.

    The question was do you understand what mathematics is. We already know how good you are in math (see above).

  26. Nicksmama says:

    I homeschool my children. We use a math program that is taught in Singapore schools (annual cost to me: $30.00). The word problems are filled with references to Singapore culture (asain fruits, names, money, etc.) and my oh my, my children still master math concepts…..

    The publisher has come out with an “americanized version” — but I am sure it didn’t cost them 10 million to make the changes (american fruits, names, and money)….

    You taxs dollars a work. Where do I write to express my disgust with the National Science Foundation for using our tax dollars to fund this junk?

  27. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Whenever I despair of contemporary math instruction, I get out Tom Leher’s “New Math” and all is clear.

  28. The award is #0424983 for “CEMELA”. Write your congressman.

  29. jeff wright says:

    Ambra, you just don’t get it, do you? You acknowledge that we are the most advanced nation and then you talk about opportunity. How in the world do you think we got to be the most advanced nation? I live in Silicon Valley, an economic engine the likes of which the world has never before seen. My neighbors are white-bread Euros, Indians, Chinese, Mexican, you name it. They’re all here for the opportunities and most of them gladly sign up to be Americans. Those real smart third-world kids? Lots of them will end up here. Those who stay home will face incredible obstacles in modernizing their countries. Check the statistics on India, for example. For every bright kid who gets an outsourced American job, there are 100 beggars. Will their political system ever allow them to solve this problem?

    Europe is dying and we are thriving—because our immigration policies allow all of those smart people to flock here. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where an American gets his/her smarts, just so long as the fruit of those smarts goes into American coffers. We are the smartest nation in the world.

    And most native-born kids really aren’t all that stupid, either. WRT Latin America, when the time comes, smart people from the U.S. will move south. Politicians in Latin America are already scared to death of this scenario. It will happen.

    Like it or not, we are Rome. And we really don’t have to give instruction in anything other than English. We only do it so that people will fit more easily into our overwhelming system. Sometimes we overdo it.

  30. Hundreds of thousands of top European scientists are immigrating to the US for the opportunities. Many of the top physicians from Europe and Canada come to the US as well. Hundreds of thousands of top engineers, scientists, and physicians come from Asia and many tens of thousands of brilliant professionals come from South America.

    Most hispanic parents want their children taught in english, not bilingual crap. It looks like math educators are looking to get in on the lucrative ESL action.

  31. Shelby — thanks for the external genitalia, but you can keep them.

    Read the post again — one of the points I was making was that “showing the work” was the problem. And frankly, if the American Math teachers couldn’t understand the methodology, why should I, an Historian who hasn’t taken a math class in years, have been able to explain how to do the work not only in a different form AND in a different language? Get real.