I like a good debate. Anyone who has ever read my blog knows that I can think about, and discuss virtually anything. Call it my superpower. Call it a blessing and a curse. Whatever. I am always available to talk about how there is no right answer to anything: how there can be a whole bunch of possible answers to any question, even about trivial things like “are tv shows mean?”. How the world is 95% grey…

Today, all of you out there get to see me contradict myself. You are about to see me admit that some things do have a right and wrong answer. Here’s where you get to say that I’m a hypocrite, that I don’t know anything, whatever you want to say to me to tell me that I am/was wrong…

Ready? I know some of you are chomping at the bit to call me some names…

Recently, the Oregon DOE (department of education) sent out an email discussing teacher training re: math. This is standard. Teachers are constantly receiving additional instruction on how to best reach their students. The suggested course of study was this website:

http://www.equitablemath.org

For the purposes of this particular post, I will be focusing on one section of this guide. “The focus is on getting the right answer.”

http://www.equitablemath.org
equitablemath.org

“The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so. Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.”

2+2=79:

Discuss…

I’m waiting… I mean, I can give more examples to discuss….

Now, theoretically, I know that we can say that two plus two does not equal four. I get that. Theoretically….

But practically speaking…

Are there certain constructs of mathematics that clearly have “right” and “wrong” answers?

If I hand someone $5 in a single bill for an item that is $4.90, is there discussion as to whether I get ten cents back? Should I argue that I should get back a dollar because the item I’m buying is overpriced? Should the cashier tell me that I don’t get back any money, or that I actually owe them more?

Do you want your accountant to miscalculate how much money you owe, or are owed? Or would you rather have a discussion, also known as an audit?

If you are flying in a plane, or sitting in your house, do you want the people that have worked on these things to have done the math correctly?

After a roof collapses on you due to faulting measurement, do you want to have a conversation about whether or not the math was correct?

Do you want to take a vaccine that hasn’t been measured out to be the proper dosage? Do you negotiate with the nurse as to how much should be in the vial?

Do we need to sometimes accept that there are indeed things that have right and wrong answers?

Is it fair to teach children that “right” answers don’t exist?

Let’s extrapolate. You believe in climate change. You are talking to someone that does not. You are conversing about this because there are no right answers- only theory. When you say to them “But it’s science…” and they respond “There are no right answers…” what do you think about that person?

How about masks. The idea of whether or not masks are necessary (as the CDC now says that we should be wearing two masks…) has been a hotly debated topic for the past year. Do you think there is a right or wrong answer to this question? Theoretically as well as practically.

So….

What do you think about telling kids that there are no right and wrong answers when it comes to math?

Do you believe that there are right and wrong answers to things, or is everything open to discussion?

Discuss:

75 thoughts on “Anything Can Happen Friday: Math

  1. I believe the problem comes when we insist there’s only one way to get the right answer. Or emphasis is placed on speed of getting the right answers. Instead-teaching students not to be afraid of mistakes-that’s when we learn the most.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I get the theory. I get the multiple ways to solve a problem. I get the no harm no foul approach to making mistakes. However, to say that we shouldn’t focus on the right answer seems counterintuitive. At some point we must tell kids that 2+2 does not equal 79, and why. My daughter is a not so good at standardized tests because she can argue any answer as being right. In ELA that is….. in math….she knows that there is a right answer, and she knows how to get it. Multiple ways.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My daughter had a test in like 4th grade. She just knew math, so she showed little to no work but got the right answer. The teacher gave her 2 of 5 points. Another kid had a page of work and not the right answer. Kid got a 4 out if 5 points. How is that fair? Skip ahead…who do you think did better in math as a middle school and high school student?

        Liked by 4 people

  2. “Do we need to sometimes accept that there are indeed things that have right and wrong answers?”

    YES! No amount of academic abstractions and dithering can make 2 + 2 not equal 4… in the real world.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well i would say most math is absolute. The equation 2+2 will always equal 4. If someone wants to go do all the work of proving 2+2 = 79 I just don’t have the time or energy for it I guess. Not sure why we would want to teach that. Sometimes there is a wrong answer and that has to be taught and accepted.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What? There is no “right” answer? Math is objective. 2+2=4, not 5. Orwell had a book about that, and your examples are pretty spot on. You use bad math to build a building, and it’s going to fall down, not matter how much you argue otherwise. Math is nature, and nature is not forgiving like that.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Math is cut and dried, you get the right answer or you don’t, pretty simple concept. I know my kids were never strong in this subject area to tell the truth I wasn’t either at least when you got past business math. I have 10 fingers, I know this because I counted them, I can even check my counting by adding 5 from one hand and adding to the 5 on the other. This whole thing of telling kids their is no incorrect answer doesn’t make for adults with critical thinking skills.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I see a much larger problem here than whether or not math is objective, answers are right or wrong. White supremacy in math? Parents really need to be paying attention to what is going on at their child’s school.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Seriously! What is this world coming to?. I think the person that wrote that has been wearing too many masks and hasn’t been getting enough oxygen. Wtf. Really? Racism in math. That’s going a little too far.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. When one of your content developers (see right hand column) hails from the same organization as one of the “feedback advisors” and this group, Quetzal Education Consulting, is described as “3 teachers spreading culturally sustaining solutions for abolitionist teaching, anti-racist praxis, and ethnic studies pedagogy”..well, you get what you get. –Sheesh.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “Real world math” is valued over math in the real world? WHAT does the mean???? Ugh. My son was a theoretical math major in the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He finally gave up when he spent one entire quarter having to prove the existence of zero. Switched to Lit because he said “it’s easy.” Of course both of those majors would be considered racist today 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have any idea what that statement means at all. All I know is I want scientists, engineers, plumbers, cashiers, etc knowing how to get a correct answer because that’s my real world

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh dear. As someone who has studied multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching (there’s my qualifier lol), I think this person/curriculum has done what’s been done for decades now. I want to assume they’ve meant well; however, something got lost in translation. I’m all on board for teaching students different ways for solving a problem (e.g., one apple and three oranges equals four pieces of fruit, so does two apples and two oranges…got it), but I’m not on board for saying there’s not right answer in math…Math is the one place where logical people thrive and where we’ve all been taught there is a right answer. I’m also not sure how this combats racism in education. Again, allowing people to solve problems in varied ways is antiracist, but saying there’s no right answer? Not so sure about that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The no right answer thing really got me. How can we teach that there are no right answers. I get the theory. And I get that there are multiple ways to derive an answer. However, some math problems do have “right” answers, and those are real world right answers. I’m all for questioning and asking…but if we don’t focus on getting the right answers, how can kids excel in stem related fields? Work on the theory but at some point a kid needs to know basic arithmetic

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m dumbstruck. And we wonder why there is PC backlash going on. Some people really go too far out there. Right answers in math are racist? No. No, they’re not. Can we go solve some real-world problems now?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Negotiating with a nurse and a critical care patient sounds like you are assuming the role of a broker and dealer or dealer or customer. Yeech. Can one negotiate with the mortician also or is this a no because it is after death?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think that trends come and go (thank God) and right now, seeing absolutely everything through the lens of racism is the trend of the day. Of course students learn differently, and of course they can get to the right answer in different ways, and that’s just fine. But there really is a right answer in math, and that’s not racist. We can, and should, fight racism. But taking away the logic in math is not the way to do that. These kind of documents actually undermine the effort to take racism seriously, I think.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Agreed on everything you state. Is this really the best way to teach math going forward? Now that an entire state is using it as it’s guideline?

      Like

  14. Hmmmm. The wait for the math problem is over. Alright, this may seem like taking the easy way out, yet it is what I think and feel. I think you can have both. I think in any classroom, with a qualified committed teacher or instructor, you can teach kids objectivity, 2+2=4; and, you can also teach them to ask critical questions, and to always make sure to employ their own subjectivity. Even in math. Great question, LA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like an argument. I have a problem with telling kids that right answers to math questions are wrong in thought. Are we actually preparing kids for the future? Are we going to complain when they don’t get jobs or into college? Is the real world a place for negotiation via what 2+2 equals? I think this is a very slippery slope

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good questions. From a basics perspective, I agree. However, there is a real absence of critical thinking skills in this country, and I think kids at an early age need to learn how to hold both. In one hand, yes, 2+2 = 4, and, in the other, let’s discuss. Maybe it’s more that kids need access to more classes in critical thinking, whether that comes in math or some other subject matters less than it does that they get it. Oh, and I also have a problem with telling kids that 2+2 =4 is wrong in thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Totally agree with lack of critical thinking. However, I take a walk before you run theory. To critically think, you need to understand logic. There is nothing more logical than seeing an apple and an orange and realizing that you have two pieces of fruit. You can add it up any way you want, think of the components anyway you want, but if you don’t see the things in front of you and say one apple plus one orange equals two fruits, then you can’t go on to the next step. You’re not teaching kids logic by saying there are no right answers. My daughter just got a part time job. She got the job because the previous person didn’t know how to find the right answer to something. If we don’t teach kids that some things are indeed correct, how do they actually prosper in the real world, where jobs may have multiple ways of dealing with issues, but in the end, there is an answer

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow! What a fun post. I could write an entire post responding. First, I have to say that I believe math is objective. There are correct and incorrect answers in math. (Notice, I didn’t say “right” to avoid any implications with that word.) In college, my algebra instructor had worked in the “real world.” So with every type of problem he demonstrated a practical application – building farm silos, calculations so missiles actually flew, so buildings didn’t fall down, etc, etc. If you got the wrong answer in the real world, people could die. Later, while in Ag School, I had to learn how to calculate feed rations using quadratic equations. Wrong answers meant animals could suffer, or fail to grow, fail to produce milk for their young. Then in the legal and financial world, the joke is, “What is 2 +2,”and the accountant answers, “Well, what do you want it to be?” As for the nurse example, being a nurse myself, yes, I could argue or negotiate what the proper dose is. I’ve witnessed the aftermath of “wrong” dosages. When I was the charge nurse on a general surgical floor, we administered insulin to diabetics on what is called a “sliding scale.” Depending on whether a patient’s blood sugar was elevated , you would administer a certain dose in “units.” If the blood sugar was “normal,” you administered no insulin at all. On the computer printed medication sheet, this would appear as “0 units.” One of my newly graduated nurses called me over one night to ask about the insulin dosage. Her patient had a normal blood sugar level and required no insulin. To administer any insulin would have thrown this person into insulin shock, caused seizures, and possibly killed the patient. But she insisted that she must administer “zero units,” and that “zero” had to be a positive number. Try as I might, I was never able to explain to her what “zero” was. That it meant nothing, you give no insulin. And I’m not making that up. After trying to explain basic math to her, she reported me to my supervisor claiming that I was mean and trying to intimidate her. I have no idea how many patients’ lives this person may have put into jeopardy. “White supremacy” in math ??????? I just saw a different post on LinkedIn claiming white supremacy caused the power outages in Texas . . .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My thing is, should we ever say there are no right answers? If math isn’t used correctly, people die. People also get taken advantage of. I don’t like an entire state of children being taught like this. Question everything. But know that sometimes there are indeed right answers

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I reread the “policy” and have posted your link on both Twitter and LinkedIn with different hashtags. One problem is many people simply will no longer expend the effort to read. Nevertheless, let’s see what happens

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m with you (but how are you hypocritical?). When I studied through LDS Pathways two years ago, we all sighed in relief at the math portion because everyone could speak numbers. Relatedly, the woman from Ecuador had a much easier approach to long division -but- the answer was the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I spent time a few days ago on my very insightful response, and it wouldn’t post. It went out into ether space and was just gone. It was late, and I just didn’t have it in me to recreate it. So, here is my less insightful but just as heart felt response. It’s MATH–not politics, not social science–MATH. There IS a right answer and in our daily lives it makes a real difference if you can arrive at the correct answer. You can be black, white, or purple and you should still get the same answer. I am so thankful to be retired from education, a profession I absolutely loved. This political craziness has gotten out of hand when it determines how we teach math. Censorship is being modeled for our young writers. History is being rewritten as we cancel whole cultures, rather than learn from the events of the past. Science is twisted to support political views. I am embarrassed and dismayed by what we have allowed to happen in our “free” society with talk of reeducation camps for anyone who disagrees with current agendas. As always, thanks for your thought provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I told someone else that my daughter just got a part time job. She got it because the person to hold the position prior had neither critical thinking skills or the ability to find the right answer. Thinking means knowing that there are possibilities and ideas, and knowing when something is concrete

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said! Creativity is important, but in math that doesn’t mean coming up with a nonsensical answer. It means being able to see problems from a different perspective; it is the ability to make connections that others haven’t made. Vision based on facts.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly! But you must understand the basics. If you don’t you can never make a logical argument. This Oregon thing is an injustice to the kids in that state

        Liked by 1 person

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