As the originator of this thread, I thought I'd step in at this point. This discussion has covered a lot of ground and has advanced into territory beyond the starting thesis. But I am glad that it has because the posts of Razziel and stapler99 show that the outdated thinking of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is still with us. Razziel advances the kind of philosophy social darwinists did, in effect arguing for the inequality of Man, and then complains that his real meaning is being obscured and distorted by those who disagree with him. That tells me we still have a long way to go. The arguments put forward by stapler99 and Razziel are the old positions advanced by the pseudo-science of eugenics in the twentieth century, dressed up in more temperate language.
I have taught in high school. Band on the Run’s experience during her early education, sadly, is not uncommon and is still going on today. As a high school mathematics teacher I can tell you that math education is in very bad shape. I taught remedial math, pre-algebra and honors geometry and was simply appalled by what my students did not know. My remedial students couldn’t even do third-grade arithmetic. Out of fourteen students, eleven could not complete a 225-square multiplication table even though they were given ninety minutes to do so. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the honors geometry class had difficulty with the arithmetic of fractions. The text book in use did not mention Euclid and the axiomatic method of using definitions, postulates and theorems until the very end and then only in the most cursory fashion. Yet these kids were expected to take college mathematics and do well when the fact was they were completely unprepared to do work on that level.
I am currently living in Alabama and some of my family want me to think about teaching in the public schools here. But public education in Alabama is a complete disaster, particularly in the city of Birmingham where I currently live. It was hardly good back in Colorado where I previously taught, but the situation there is light-years ahead of Alabama’s. I might do substitute teaching here, but I don’t know if I could tolerate the culture enough to teach full time.
I would put both vigor and rigor in my classroom instruction. When I did this in Colorado, I encountered great resistance from parents and school administrators and I expect that would be multiplied many-fold in Alabama. The problem starts in the very first year of school. As BOTR noted, math education is cumulative, and if a poor foundation has been laid in the early years, it will handicap the student throughout her education. For all the talk of stressing fundamentals and basics in math education, its advocates often fail to realize that rigor and discipline are just as important. Without them, the other elements won’t have the desired impact.
This particularly relates to the problem I raised at the start of this thread. We all know that economics plays a huge role in the quality of public education in the United States. But we must also resist the temptation to say it is the most important one. My parents attended segregated schools in Alabama in the 1940s and 1950s. Everything about the schools they attended was inferior to what even middle-class white kids had. Nevertheless, my parents and their schoolmates were expected to do their very best. Those segregated schools gave this country minds like Thurgood Marshall and Colin Powell and that was because education itself was revered and honored with teachers held in high esteem.
If people of color are to take their place in the sciences, a place that is open and waiting for them, then they must demand that educators quit following the fads and psycho-babble that are the coin of the realm in public education. They have to hire good teachers and fully support their effort and determination to bring quality instruction back to the classroom. That means paying them what they’re worth. That means telling their children that their teachers must and will be respected. That means empowering teachers to cultivate the talents and gifts of those who can do the kind of work that will lead to careers in mathematics, science, engineering and technology. I wonder if that will happen.