Math education may not be improved by mythic narrative


Escalante tells me the film was 90 percent truth and 10 percent drama — but what a difference 10 percent can make. Stand and Deliver shows a group of poorly prepared, undisciplined young people who were initially struggling with fractions yet managed to move from basic math to calculus in just a year. The reality was far different. It took 10 years to bring Escalante’s program to peak success. He didn’t even teach his first calculus course until he had been at Garfield for several years. His basic math students from his early years were not the same students who later passed the A.P. calculus test…

…This Hollywood message had a pernicious effect on teacher training. The lessons of Escalante’s patience and hard work in building his program, especially his attention to the classes that fed into calculus, were largely ignored in the faculty workshops and college education classes that routinely showed Stand and Deliver to their students. To the pedagogues, how Escalante succeeded mattered less than the mere fact that he succeeded. They were happy to cheer Escalante the icon; they were less interested in learning from Escalante the teacher. They were like physicians getting excited about a colleague who can cure cancer without wanting to know how to replicate the cure.

The article goes on to document how the math program Mr. Escalante helped create developed, and the institutional forces that brought it down (hey, this is libertarian mag, but many of us in public schools have seen nasty stuff like this go down). (Thanks to Miguel Guhlin’s Diigo links for starting me on this serendipitous journey)

Here is another story that seems to involve some drama, TED | Speakers | Bill Strickland. Go to about 12:20 in the video and he says that he has “welfare moms doing analytical chemistry with logarithmic calculators after 10 months in the program” and at 13:00 he claims to take kids who are illiterate to a high school equivalence in 20 weeks. I took some time to look up studies for the Bidwell Training Center on ERIC:

ERIC – Education Resources Information Center: Pre-Math/Science Training for Chemical Laboratory Technologist.

Now, to go off on a semi-related tangent…Last week, I left a comment at Jakie B’s Math-itude « Continuities where she was discussing how her students attitudes about Math seemed to often be the biggest barrier to learning (“But I can’t do math!”). I shared this link about Students’ View of Intelligence Can Help Grades : NPR.

I wonder if our attitudes about teaching force us into this dichotomy: you’re either making super-sized improvements test scores, or saying these kids can’t be taught anything. Maybe there is something in between that involves teaching and improving students academically that is closer to reality and not just a myth?

Photo Credit: hercules and atlas by shapeshift on flickr

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