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Friday, July 25, 2008

Math Teaching Wars

Interesting post on Scienceblogs.

I've been getting peppered with requests to comment on a recent argument that's been going on about math education, particularly with respect to multiplication. We've got a fairly prominent guy named Keith Devlin ranting that "multiplication is not repeated addition". I've been getting mail from both sides of this - from people who basically say "This guy's an idiot - of course it's repeated addition", and from people who say "Look how stupid these people are that they don't understand that multiplication isn't repeated addition".

In general, I'm mostly inclined to agree with him, with some major caveats. But since he sidesteps the real fundamental issue here, I'm rather annoyed with him.

You see, the argument isn't really about multiplication, but about math education. The argument isn't really about whether multiplication is repeated addition - it's about whether or not we should teach kids to understand multiplication as repeated addition. And that's a tricky question, because the answer is both yes and no.