Today in the Times... teaching math vs. reading

In raising scores, 1 2 3 is easier than a b c

When I first started mentioning articles that interested in me in the NYT, I did not anticipate it becoming a daily phenomenon. But lately the newspaper has been doing a lot of interesting reporting on educational politics and pedagogy, and that is one way I'm hoping to use this blog: to collect interesting articles on education. Hence the frequent NYT posts.

Today's piece is not surprising, but the situation it highlights is surely an interesting topic for conversation, debate, and certainly research. The article discusses how it is easier to catch students up in math than in reading.

Part of that is certainly because reading teachers aren't teaching reading anymore, are they? They're teaching reading and critical thinking and rhetoric and grammar and five paragraph themes. At a fundamental level, math teachers teach students a certain kind of logic, while reading teachers are expected to teach students how to think.

And this is where education collides with politics. All subjects are not equally politicized and for good reason. How students think will influence future political contexts. Authoritarian regimes have an interest in having skilled mathematicians and engineers. But are critical, engaged, informed citizens a goal of authoritarian regimes? I don't think so. Sometimes I don't think they are goal of democratic regimes either!

The other issue, highlighted by the article, is that math proficiency is much less influenced by your home environment than reading. As Geoffrey Borman, a UW professor and one of the interviewees in the article said, “Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations.” Your ability to use language is influenced by your exposure to it, and school is simply not enough. Your language will reflect those you hang out with and what you read. Your math skills are much more determined by your teacher at school.

My first instinct about this is that much more time should be spend in school on language-related skills than math skills but that is obviously not enough of a solution. My second thought is, boy was that Dorothy Sayers on to something with her article "The Lost Tools of Learning."

I'll just leave it at that for today and perhaps write on Sayers tomorrow!