The media foster a half-century of no progress . . .

Basic Education in America
© Conrad Weisert, Information Disciplines, Inc.

Decsember 1, 2013

This article may be circulated freely as long as the copyright notice is included.

"Traditional math education treats all students like they want to become doctors. Well, not everyone's going to be a doctor."—high-school teacher, Chicago Tribune November 29, 2013

But should it treat them as if they want to become high-school teachers?

The above quotation is featured in a front-page article headlined Colleges test new tactics for remedial math. The word remedial in education is almost always an indication of failure—failure by the student, failure by the instructor, and failure by the system. The article reports young adult students paying $400 for a remedial course1 covering the same concepts that they should have mastered free of charge a few years earlier as high-school students.

Instead the student chose not to master the material (or even take the course), and the school chose to award the ignorant student a diploma. Last year we cited a disgraceful op-ed piece in the New York Times that actually endorsed basic math-illiteracy for the masses!

The new Tribune article illustrates the futility of even trying by showing several actual problems found on class exercises or examinations. The first one asks the student to solve an inequality:

-24 < 5x + 1 < 6

Okay, that's a contrived and somewhat messy example that would rarely occur in a student's later occupation, but it's hardly "higher mathematics", and it certainly doesn't justify ridiculing the course2 in a newspaper article.

Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States when we first took note of the serious gap in education between American students and students in Russia, Japan, and many smaller nations, especially in science and mathematics. We urgently needed to close that gap, thundered politicians and media. Well, here we are in 2013. How do our high-school graduates compare with the Chinese?

1—The Tribune article reports an aggregate $3 billion in the cost of U.S. remedial education.
2Remedial Algebra at Elmhurst Community College.

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Last modified December 1, 2013