NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Fuzzy Math" Proponents Gain Political Clout

June 11, 1997

Who would have thought that even mathematics could be politicized? But many parent are finding it has become so when their children report on the kind of math they are being taught: "whole math," a.k.a. "fuzzy math" or as some call it, MTV Math -- named for an eighth-grade math book with colorful pictures, disconnected ideas and a generally casual attitude.

  • Critics say the new math isn't particularly concerned with students getting the right answers -- emphasizing, instead, having a good rationale for a wrong answer.
  • In California, where the school system embraced whole math in 1992, concerned parents and dissident teachers have even set up a World Wide Web site called Mathematically Correct to point out the follies of whole math instruction.
  • As a result, several of the organizers have been appointed to panels that will influence future math curricula in California.

But observers say their efforts may be sabotaged by President Clinton's desire for a national test for eighth grade mathematics.

  • Critics say that judging from the credentials of the committee the President recently picked to oversee the exam, fuzzy math proponents will be in charge of the nation's math agenda.
  • Several of the appointees are past presidents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics -- the group largely responsible for bringing whole math into the schools.
  • That group denounces the "longstanding preoccupation with computation and other traditional skills," contending that it is no longer necessary that students be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
  • Instead of instructing, teachers are to encourage "cooperative learning," without indicating "in any way the rightness or wrongness of different answers," but allow students to "convince" each other and reach conclusions on their own.

Critics wonder if, after such instruction, the students will even be able to count the votes to determine the "right" answer.

Source: Lynne V. Cheney (American Enterprise Institute), Wall Street Journal, June 11, 1997.


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