by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Perhaps this blog entry requires a trigger warning. Reading the rest of it might return you to the cold, dark days of old, when a mean-spirited teacher required you to memorize (oh, the horror!) a multiplication table.
Several skills that every kid once learned in school are going the way of the dodo in a hurry. Cursive handwriting is dying, for example. Diagramming sentences is practically an extinct art.
And now, if a fancypants Stanford University education professor has her way, memorized multiplication tables could be next on the chopping block.
The professor is Jo Boaler, reports U.S. News & World Report.
She insists that teachers and parents are damaging America’s children by using math flash cards and repetitively drilling discrete arithmetic facts. She is especially against demanding that students perform math rapidly and under time constraints.
“Drilling without understanding is harmful,” Boaler told U.S. News. “I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”
Boaler published a working paper online laying out her theories. The title is “Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts.”
The Stanford professor’s argument against thousands of years of evidence is convoluted. Among her main claims is the contention that students don’t need to remember math facts because they can instead develop “number sense” by solving “rich” mathematical problems.
Boaler also argues that students start to hate math because they think it’s about memorization rather than creative problem solving.