Fuzzy Math

July 6, 1999

Concerned parents and political activists have been complaining about fuzzy math for years, but the battle over this new way of teaching math in Plano, Texas has started to bring the issue into focus. For years I've been reading about these new textbooks that change the way math is taught. These techniques are sometimes called "fuzzy math" or "whole math" or the "new new math." I've even heard of a textbook referred to as rainforest algebra because it spends a good portion of the book talking about ecology and the loss of rainforests instead of teaching algebra.

Now you would think that math is math. But of course I used to think that grammar was grammar until educators introduced such things as the whole language approach and changed the way students learned English and grammar. The same seems to be taking place with these new math books.

The textbook in question is called Connected Mathematics. Math is taught through group work and through discovery learning. In essence, students are to teach themselves and to work in groups. I well remember when that fad hit my high school my senior year. Since I lived just outside Berkeley, California I got to see some of these educational fads 20 years before most school districts. My math teacher came back from a seminar on group learning and implemented it in our pre-calculus class. Let me say it was pretty much of a disaster. Most of us learned math in spite of the program, not because of it.

The battle in Plano is over this Connected Mathematics curriculum: the parents don't want it, but the school district is bringing it into the schools anyway. For the moment, it appears that traditional math is on the way out and fuzzy math is on the way in. The school district's decision doesn't seem to add up.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.