Thursday, July 10, 2014

A new post up at You Do the Math pits George Pólya against the education reform movement

Or at least it presents the opening salvos.

Pólya was a humanist. That puts him at odds with the education reform movement.

I'm a bit out of my depth with discussing the finer philosophical points but hopefully my definitions are not too nonstandard.

Here's an excerpt:

In order to see how this figures in the larger education debate, we need to introduce the field of scientific management. This field is largely based on the idea that people can be treated like any other component in a complex system. The secret to optimal performance is simply to gather the right data, derive the proper metrics, then use these metrics to put the right components in the right roles and create optimal set of incentives.

The education reform movement with its emphasis on metrics, standardization, and scripted lessons is entirely derived from scientific management. Those scripted lessons in particular represent a complete rejection of Pólya's approach of "getting inside the students head." and personalizing the instruction. Not coincidentally, David Coleman, arguably the intellectual leader of the movement, started out as a management consultant.

Another area of sharp contrast between David Coleman and Pólya is Coleman's strong support of deliberate practice in mathematics education. Scientific management is heavily reliant on reductionist approaches and their are few pedagogical techniques more reductionist than deliberate practice. Pólya was wary of reductionist approaches to teaching. He saw drills as a sometimes necessary evil, but as a rule, breaking down problems for the student was a dangerous habit. For Pólya, the process of problem solving was about taking problems and examining them, restating them, generalizing them, simplifying them, comparing them to other problems, and, yes, breaking them down into sub-problems, but the important part of that process is deciding what to do. To break the problem down for the student is to defeat the purpose.

Many, if not most, of those horrible, multi-step math problems which have become associated with Common Core are not what Pólya would consider problems at all. The problem solving has all been done in the preparation of the lesson; all that's left for the student is the mechanics.

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