# Parrots and purists

On Edspresso, Barry Garelick responds to an Education Week attack (requires registration) by T.C. O’Brien on “purist’ proponents of “parrot math,” who allegedly want students to “copy what the teacher says and give it back at test time” with no understanding.

Garelick defends learning math facts and skills.

The charge against the traditional approach is that facts and skills are learned in isolation and students donâ€™t connect them with solving problems. I donâ€™t doubt that there are traditional math books that are badly written; Iâ€™ve seen them. But Iâ€™ve seen just as many that are good; and in fact, I used them when I was in grade school. I have them, courtesy of the Internet. Addition and subtraction facts are presented along with word problems to show just how these concepts are applied. Multiplication and division are clearly explained with examples of how they are used: Six boxes of apples with 3 apples in each box totals how much? 6 6 6 which is 6 three times, or 6 x 3. Seems connected. I also seem to recall problems for which we were asked not to calculate the answer but to tell whether multiplication or division was needed to solve the problem.

I fail to understand how Mr. Oâ€™Brien finds such approach as a manifestation of â€œDonâ€™t make sense.â€ Achieving mastery to the point of automaticity is the goal, to free the mind to solve more complex problems.

I tutored a ninth grader who took about 45 seconds to figure out 6 X 3 = 18. I wouldn’t let her use a calculator. She was trying to learn algebra without fast, automatic knowledge of basic arithmetic. It did not work well.

1. Walter E. Wallis says:

This sounds like getting the correct answer on a slide rule, but not knowing where to put the decimal point.

2. Indigo Warrior says:

On Edspresso, Barry Garelick responds to an Education Week attack (requires registration) by T.C. Oâ€™Brien on â€œpuristâ€™ proponents of â€œparrot math,â€ who allegedly want students to â€œcopy what the teacher says and give it back at test timeâ€ with no understanding.

The truth is that government public schools have always been “parrot schools”, where masses of students were (and are) trained to give the correct answer, both academically and politically, with little true understanding of the material.

It doesn’t matter if the curriculum is instructivist or constructivist, old-line or new-wave, abstract or concrete, classical or relevance-based, or any of that.

3. Walter E. Wallis says:

If I ask for the square root of 3, I want better than an impression. You need to know the language before you can hold a conversation.

4. Barry Garelick says:

The truth is that government public schools have always been â€œparrot schoolsâ€, where masses of students were (and are) trained to give the correct answer, both academically and politically, with little true understanding of the material. It doesnâ€™t matter if the curriculum is instructivist or constructivist, old-line or new-wave, abstract or concrete, classical or relevance-based, or any of that.

Ya know, I never know what to say when confronted with such arguments.