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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If a Canadian walks 2 miles and 3.2 kilometers, how far is that in farsakhs?

Math is not "neutral," argueTori Trajanovski and Cristina De Simone on The Conversation. "Biases in math exist that are grounded in colonial ideals. For example, what is traditionally considered a standard measurement in a Canadian math curricula is only standard in western cultures."

Both are pursuing education doctorates at Canada's York University, yet their article on "evidence-based equitable teaching and assessment" presents no evidence that these practices are effective, writes Greg Ashman on Filling the Pail. "Instead, we are taken to one of those ubiquitous papers where teacher educators document their attempts to make trainee teachers teach mathematics badly." A teacher, blogger and author, Ashman has an education PhD himself.

The authors' zeal to teach different units of measurement from different cultures is "daft," he writes. He adds that "imperial" measurements have been replaced by user-friendly metric alternatives in most of the world. "It’s almost as if mathematics and science is not driven by colonialism but by something else such as the development of the most effective tools for the pursuit of objective truth. Who knew?"

In the tradition of educational progressivism, the authors expect novice students to figure out complex academic content for themselves, writes Ashman. Teachers are to "draw on students' existing knowledge" and "unique learning styles."

There is no evidence that catering to students' preferred learning styles leads to better learning outcomes, writes Ashman.

He advises teachers not to listen to the researchers unless they provide rigorous proof that their preferred methods lead to more learning. "If not, they should be politely — this is Canada we are talking about — shown the door."

Ashman also writes about a new math "syllabus" in Australia's New South Wales that he calls "new plans for teaching maths badly." Again, there's no evidence of effectiveness.

The plan is based on a "connectionist" approach, which apparently is "constructivist" teaching in sheep's clothing, writes Ashman. "Regular readers will be aware of the process whereby educational progressivists keep renaming their failed methods. . . . Constructivist teaching approaches are, of course, ineffective when compared to explicit teaching.

The creation of the smoot, 1958. Photo: MIT Archives

When I was in fourth grade, the advanced math group learned about units of measure. I reported on ells, fathoms and nautical miles, if memory serves. We never made it to the Persian farsakh, which is roughly equivalent to four miles. (The answer to the headline's question is ___. Show your work.)

Among other unusual units of measure is the potrzebie equaling the thickness of Mad issue 26, or 2.263348517438173216473 mm. This system, developed by 19-year-old Donald Knuth, who became a famous computer scientist, are the whatmeworry, cowznofski, vreeble, hoo and hah.

One smoot is defined to be equal to five feet and seven inches (1.70 m), the height of Oliver R. Smoot. An MIT student, his fraternity pledge in 1958 was to be used to measure the length of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, which turned out to be 364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear. Smoot later became Chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and President of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

I was surprised to learn that my husband, an engineer, is familiar with both the potrzebie and the smoot. It's his culture.

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