Mathematics Education – Throwing The Baby Out With The Bath Water

Among the many insights that I learned from my co-author and mentor, Mike Keedy, was that educational history seems to have a bad habit of repeating itself. Educators start with a great idea, a baby. The baby is cute and has its merits, so much so that the educational community gets fired up about the idea and climbs on the bandwagon, adopting the idea whole-hog and wringing it for all it is worth. Inevitably, as with any good idea, negative aspects occur because of the hurried way it was implemented. Then the world decides, perhaps erroneously, that the idea is totally bad, and throws it out entirely with the bath water. In the process, the good parts of the idea get discarded as well. A prime example was the modern math movement of the 60s and early 70s. It was motivated by the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957, the first in orbit. The idea of advancing scientific training in the United States was the baby. The bandwagon was the jump to carry it out by pushing advanced concepts down to lower grades. The bath water was throwing out the entire idea because it downplayed the teaching of skills. Just because some aspect of non-decimal bases can be taught to third graders does not mean it should be, especially if skills get slighted and teachers are ill prepared to teach it. Just because some aspects of calculus might be taught in ninth grade algebra does not mean they should be, especially if equation-solving and problem-solving skills get slighted. One aspect of the modern math movement was worth saving and that was the adherence to providing a rationale to the mathematics being taught. In my opinion, providing the rationale got thrown out with the bath water. The rationale of concepts should be provided without sacrificing skills. Thirty years later, I still ascribe to that in my writing philosophy – it is in all my books! I try to write with understanding, but my goal is sound mathematics skills as well. Where does this understanding come from? The answer is by experimentation or discovery, intuition, logical reasoning, and finally abstraction.

Marvin Bittinger has written a book entitled -The Faith Equation.- Pick up your copy today at the Advantage Book Store or For more information visit our blog: and also