At a training session for teachers in Bellevue, Washington, an elementary teacher asks a reform math consultant what to tell parents who ask whether use of calculators will hinder children’s computational skills. Here’s a video of Phil Daro, co-director of Berkeley’s Tools for Change, telling teachers to dodge the question. (He’s preceded by Uri Treisman of the Dana Center at the University of Texas.) Cal State-LA Math Professor Wayne Bishop, writing on Math Forum, provides a transcript of Daro’s answer:
. . . it’s part of the math wars. The best advice is, Don’t answer that question. You are being asked to fight a battle on a hill that has been custom made to turn you into a fool. And there’s no way to win. So basically, the general advice I give in the math wars is Advice 1. You have to realize that their strategy is to attack you, not your ideas and
they’re going to fool you by making you think they are attacking your ideas.
The first thing you do is you stand up and identify yourself to this
audience of worried and frightened parents. Tell them who you are and say I believe that all students should be able to add, subtract,
multiply, and divide without calculators. That’s the first thing you
say when the calculator issue comes up. And everything after that
when they say “calculators”, you say “technology”. If they ask about
calculators, you say, “Well, technology is important but it’s no
substitute for mathematics.”
In my experience, many parents and teachers believe introducing calculators in early elementary school hinders students’ mastery of computation, weakens their “math sense” and makes them permanently dependent. Others think there are ways to introduce calculators without letting them become a crutch. This really is about ideas, not personalities. The question deserves an honest and complete answer.