Math: Old, New, and Equalitarian
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There are three ways to teach math to the young. The old way forced rote memorization of basics and then, for most, stopped the lessons, continuing them only for those who had the inclination or ability to advance. The “new” way was to “expose” every student from the beginning, no matter their age or inexperience, to the highest, most difficult mathematical concepts, so that all might know how wondrous and astonishing math is.
The modern way, which may soon be upon us, is to let students define what math is to them or their culture, to let them discuss their feelings about what math means, and to work toward the goal of equality, that happy state when all are satisfied with their level of (self-defined) mathematical understanding. Two new books—The New Math: A Political History, by Christopher J. Phillips, and Critical Mathematics Education: Theory, Praxis, and Reality, edited by Paul Ernest, Bharath Sriraman, and Nuala Ernest—bring these distinctions to the fore.
People were long...