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Modern Math a Giant Step Backward

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Leon H. Coleman writes from Westminster

Reading your recent article about the debate over basic math education (“New Math Adds Up to O.C. Debate,” Aug. 27) certainly stirred a reaction in me. After raising three children, I honestly can say that modern math is the dumbest idea since “look-say” reading.

When my daughter was learning multiplication, I asked her to recite the times tables. She said that they weren’t “doing that,” so I asked her to memorize up to 12-times-12 as an assignment for me.

The next day she came home from school and told me that the teacher said not to learn the times tables because doing so was boring.

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My opinion of this nonsense is that teachers are the ones who find the times tables boring. Imagine listening to children reciting rote exercises that you have heard for years.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that multiplication is merely a way to express the adding of a number to itself a given number of times. Why isn’t this obvious to “educators”?

Someone seems to have missed something. Children find learning an exciting or at least fulfilling experience, and learning the fundamentals is really important. I tried to discover how the children were supposed to do division the next year if they couldn’t multiply. I never got a response from the school.

My public school education started in East Los Angeles and ended in Inglewood. I was a product of the old and boring school system, having gotten out of high school in 1949. Like all kids, I had some good teachers and some not so good. We learned the fundamentals as we went and could build on what we knew in spite of a poor teacher.

The following words hang over my desk, and I try to keep them in mind: “Don’t Generalize Based on a Random Sample of One.” But please bear with me, as I need to use my own experience as an example.

One day in 1960, accounting didn’t look as exciting as it once had, so I changed my major. I found that Cal State Long Beach required that I take a math placement test, or would have to start math from scratch.

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My test score qualified me for first semester calculus. After no math for 10 years, even though my high school math grades weren’t too great, it seems that my score was higher than many younger students with better high school grades than mine.

I am only trying to point out the importance of rote learning as a tool in the understanding of a subject.

One of my calculus instructors had summed it all up when a student asked for an explanation of what we were doing.

We were told to take what we were told on faith, because by the end of the semester we would see the answer ourselves.

He was right.

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