August 10, 2002

The language of math gives students options

Let's see if I have the column "Math requirements don't add up for many students" ("Opinion*Commentary, Aug. 2) right: Requiring mathematics is bad because (1) the math required is pointless, usually mindless manipulation of symbols that students will never use, so (2) students fail and that keeps them from getting into or through college.

Furthermore, this required math is usually taught by bad guys on the bad side of the "math wars" -- namely the bad teachers who "drill and kill" their students.

Well, here's a response from a bad guy.

Who are the column's authors to say the math is pointless? A lot of mathematics does involve the manipulation of symbols -- which is often mindless. But that's not necessarily bad. Don't think so? Then explain to me why 2 + 2 = 4. Forget that, just tell me what "2" is.

The language of mathematics is written in symbols; so learn the language. If you don't, you can forget many fulfilling professions because, while it may be invisible, math is really important. Honest.

And who are the writers to say students will never use it? What crystal ball do they possess to see a student's future or undiscovered talents?

Why do students fail math? Two reasons: They don't work or they've been too long away from the symbols.

The solution to the first problem is to flunk them, as only math (and science) teachers have the courage to do, apparently, in this touchy-feely age of grade inflation.

The answer to the second problem is for the teacher to be a good teacher and for the student to work.

Frank Grosshans

Baltimore

The writer is a professor of mathematics at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

Relax requirements for college math

I agree 100 percent with the column "Math requirements don't add up for many students" (Opinion*Commentary, Aug. 2) and I am a bit relieved that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Not only is this issue relevant for students just out of high school, but to us older adults who would like to or need to get a degree.

As a 45-year-old instructional assistant in the Howard County public schools, I have been very distraught with the new No Child Left Behind Act, which will require all instructional assistants to have at least a two-year degree or pass an assessment test by 2006.

I earned 15 college credits 25 years ago, and have been considering returning to school to complete my associate's degree. However, the courses I would need to take at Howard Community College all require a particular math class, which has a prerequisite of intermediate algebra, which, in turn, requires another two prerequisite courses in intermediate algebra and geometry.

All the remedial work needed to complete the math requirement for the two-year degree is very daunting and discouraging. I have not taken algebra since high school, and remember none of it, not having used it in my past careers or now as a teaching assistant.

Very few people use such math skills in their jobs. And unless I actually teach algebra, geometry or calculus, such a requirement for a degree is unnecessary.

Colleges need to make their curriculums more attainable for people of all ages who might be interested in continuing their education.

Eileen Schurter

Columbia

Schools can't add to black pride

Gregory Kane's criticism of the lack of a black heritage curriculum in the Baltimore public schools seems to imply that in this majority-black city, our schools should contribute to black pride and help us overcome the hateful effects of slavery ("Lessons in black history learned outside city schools," July 28).

But Mr. Kane's view, which is widely shared, that school instruction will elevate character is a seductive fallacy.

As a 60-year-old black female activist who is a college graduate, I have a fair understanding of people's triumphs through tribulations.

And I have discovered that information that comes from outside one's immediate environment -- one's parents, family and other interpersonal relationships -- does not penetrate to one's core.

The denial of our worth as persons is still being imparted from one to another, particularly from parent to child. Overt instruction cannot correct such covert carnage.

Those of us with decent survival skills must intervene ever more vigilantly and valiantly to inspire self-worth among those in our surroundings.

City public schools simply do not have that ability.

Orisha Kammefa

Baltimore

Tough love can be the best medicine

Listen to the plaintive cries of the bleeding hearts who have no clue about what behavior modification is about: "[A private residential school] isolates the kids from outside contacts and applies psychological pressures to conform to the program. Children break ... psychologically" ("Going Beyond Tough Love," July 31). Boo-hoo-hoo.