Ethnic math

On Gene Expression, TangoMan links to a Multicultural Math course guide from the University of Florida’s education school. The course includes oral reports on the “contributions” of different cultures, crafts, games and Multicultural Food Day, when all students prepare an ethnic dish. There are Chinese tangrams, Vedic squares, kente cloth and Norwegian Christmas baskets. It sounds like fun in an elementary school sort of way. Apparently, the course is required for a master’s in math education; only six hours of “non-graduate math” (graduate level math?) are required for a master’s.

But do students whose ancestors came from Africa, Mexico, China or India understand math differently from students descended from Norwegians, Greeks or Russians? If math is universal and learnable by everyone with a gray, wrinkly brain, then why teach culture in math class? I wonder if the education school has a class on how teachers teach math in high-scoring countries like Singapore and Japan.

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Comments

  1. I think that the Singapore and Japanese models differ from the American one in a number of ways, which would be difficult to reproduce on this side of the Pacific.

    For example, in Japan, Korea, and Singapore, not only are the schools held accountable for student progress, but so are the parents and students themselves.

    I don’t think that is going to happen in the United States anytime soon. It’s more politically expedient to foist full responsibility for success on the education system.

    Few American politicians are going to tell voters that they [the voters] are partially responsible for the shortcomings of our public education system.

  2. Foobarista says:

    When I was in Shanghai last month, I got a chance to look at my 9 year old nephew’s homework: quite impressive stuff, with lots of math puzzles which would have the effect of developing an intuition for concepts from number theory. These aren’t just for fun: they are graded just like any homework. And in China, students scores are posted at the front of the class so that every student knows how well they did and how well everyone else is doing.

    I doubt that schools in China are going to do any silly multiculti math garbage anytime soon. There _are_ occasional opportunities for pointing out where this or that mathematical idea came from, but this should be done lightly and as part of reinforcing good ol’ fashioned lessons, as opposed to celebratory ethno-crapola. Maybe pointing out that algebra came from Arabia, etc – but let’s stick to the algebra…

  3. EdWonk wrote:

    >”I think that the Singapore and Japanese models differ from the American one in a number of ways, which would be difficult to reproduce on this side of the Pacific.”

    “For example, in Japan, Korea, and Singapore, not only are the schools held accountable for student progress, but so are the parents and students themselves.”

    Model? Are you saying that the math content and skills needs are the same, but how it’s taught is different? Are you calling the “model” the level of expectation and the enforcement? I agree that US schools don’t expect much, but you have to understand that what NCTM calls math is not what is taught in Singapore – for content and skills required grade-by-grade. The difference is not just accountability and enforcement.

    >”I don’t think that is going to happen in the United States anytime soon. It’s more politically expedient to foist full responsibility for success on the education system.”

    >”Few American politicians are going to tell voters that they [the voters] are partially responsible for the shortcomings of our public education system.”

    Are you saying that the schools would expect more from the kids IF ONLY THEY COULD, but the parents and politicians won’t let them? This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Look at the NAEP sample test questions and results. Fourth grade math – How many fourths in a whole? 50 percent got it wrong. The schools have the students for 180 days a year and you are saying that parents and politicians in the US prevent the schools from setting high grade-by-grade expectations? I think I’m going to be sick.

    Gee, we don’t like NCLB because the parents and politicians are keeping us from meeting these pathetically simple standards.

    Besides, this is just blatently wrong. US politicians are the ones forcing the issue with NCLB. These are minimal standards, but standards none-the-less.

    The schools set the low standards and the schools select the fuzzy NCTM math curricula. Parents (and mathematicians, scientists, and engineers) have little or no say in either of these. The problem I see in K-8 math is not so much a problem with multiculturalism as it is in dumbing down the curriculum so that “all kids can learn” in a full-inclusion, developmentally-appropriate manner – i.e. low expectations, spiraling, and social promotion. This is the US “model” and it can’t be blamed on the parents. It can, however, be blamed on schools of education. Perhaps one could argue that this “model” is influenced by multiculturalism, but it really doesn’t matter.

  4. Is it just me, or does it seem kind of odd that the syllabus for a graduate-level course in the College of Education needs to include a page on ‘Expectations for Classroom Behavior’?

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