Open letter to Barack Obama from John Dewey

I am very distressed to learn about your selection of Jeanne Century as one of your education advisors.She is director of the science program of University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE), an organization which has been heavily involved with a horrificly lacking mathematics program called Everyday Mathematics—in fact, one of the co-directors of CEMSE was one of the developers of the program.

You will do what you do, I'm sure, but I truly hope that in formulating your positions on education, you take seriously the recommendations of the Presidentially appointed National Mathematics Advisory Panel.  I also hope that you put aside partisan differences in judging such report and read it for what it is: an honest examination of what is the content that students must learn and master in elementary school in order to be prepared for algebra in 8th grade.  The report also recommends what should be in such an algebra course.

I would imagine that neither you nor any of your staffers has read my columns at this website about my experiences at a graduate school of education where I take evening classes.I plan to teach middle or high school math when I retire in three years.I wrote the column a few years ago in the hopes of educating the public about what passes for educational theory and amounts to something resembling superstition, old wives' tales and out-and-out lies.Under the guise of what is called inquiry-based learning, education schools—as well as the administrations of an alarming number of public schools—have embraced this educational sham that puts process above product, and equity above content.Equity for minorities is achieved by dumbing down the curricula to such an extent that everyone achieves the same low level of education—which is to say none at all.

My use of a pseudonym to write my columns is for good reason.One does not challenge the status quo in education schools, and certainly not in public schools.To that end, I'd like to make you aware of a report, of which Ms. Century is listed as one of the authors.The report was published online in 1999 and is called "The Principals (sic) of Educational Reform: Supporting Mathematics and Science Teaching in your School.  A Handbook for Elementary and Middle School Principals." I found the following passage in the report particularly disturbing:

"You may have teachers in your school who are not at all interested in exploring ways to change their practice. If you have such resisters, it is important to do everything you can to persuade them to participate. Listen to their concerns, give them the professional development and materials necessary, and provide them with encouragement. There will always be people who are simply shut down to change. But the change can happen without them. Don't focus too much of your energy on these individuals, for you don't want to neglect those who are ready and willing. The reluctant ones will eventually need to come on board but at the beginning it is more important to make sure support is available for those who want it. Still, if you think resistant teachers are going to actively undermine your progress, you may wish to consider exploring ways to remove them from your school. You may find that the teacher is just as happy to leave the school as you may be to see him/her go." (Emphasis added)

I have a degree in mathematics –that's mathematics, not math education—and I take the subject seriously, as well as how it is taught. I have chosen to go into teaching because I see that math education is in a crisis and I would like to do my part to help open doors for students instead of the current practice of slamming them shut forever.That said, I'm afraid that I would qualify as one of the "resisters" mentioned in the above cited paragraph, if the type of teaching being advocated is inquiry based (student centered) and/or the curricula are any of several of those developed under grants from NSF.  My daughter had Everyday Math in her elementary school and I worked with her at night to ensure she learned and mastered what was not being taught in her classes.  I can assure you that the poor quality of Everyday Math had nothing to do with the quality of her teachers, and everything to do with the curriculum.

I am probably the most unoriginal person who ever lived, and any ideas I've had have probably occurred to hundreds of thousands of others.I mention this to let you know I am not unique.There are others like me who have real world experience and a solid education who would like to teach.There are also others like me who are on the fence regarding for whom they will cast their vote in November.Like me, those making that decision are forced to decide what is best for our children in terms of education.   I would hope that you will not advance policies that continue the disservice that has been perpetrated on our children for the better part of two decades.  On the other hand, I believe Lisa Keegan, (McCain's advisor) are much more aligned with how teaching should be conducted. Her ideas on education would be a change that I and many others (Democrats included) would welcome--something to which you might want to give some serious thought seeing as how you seem to be quite big on change.

In the spirit of non-partisanship, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

John Dewey

Published July 2, 2008


July 2nd, 2008



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