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July 04, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps--and Better Brookings Senior Fellows? (Yet Another Kevin Drum vs. Diane Ravitch Edition)

Kevin Drum writes:

The Washington Monthly: [Re] Diane Ravitch's op-ed about math instruction in the Wall Street Journal, I've now learned of two [more errors]: [Ravitch writes:] "Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the 'new, new math' as 'rainforest algebra'." This is woefully misleading. The person who coined the term "rainforest algebra" was Marianne Jennings. She isn't a professional mathematician, she's a business professor at Arizona State University and a well known conservative columnist. [Ravitch writes:] "A new textbook, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers, shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged." Rethinking Mathematics is not a textbook. It's a collection of articles that provide suggestions for math projects to be used at various grade levels.... "Textbook" implies a primary text... suggests that it's meant to be the sole text used. A resource book, conversely, is meant for occasional use.... There's nothing insidious about a math resource book that focuses on social justice, just as there's nothing insidious about a resource book aimed at Christian schools that focuses on math problems taken from the Bible. I Kings 7:23 might make a good geometry unit, for example.*

That's three factual errors in the first four paragraphs of Ravitch's op-ed. This is not a good track record.

But this quality work is about what we have seen over and over again from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, no? The surprising thing is not that a writer for the Journal editorial page is so... misleading, but that the Brookings Institution doesn't have better... quality control.

*Kevin is undertaking high-class snark here, intelligible only to those who know the Hebrew Bible extremely well. The verse is:

And [Solomon] made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

It's round--it's a circle. It's ten cubits across. It's thirty cubits in circumference. In short, the Hebrew Bible says pi = 3. Not 3.14, 3. Not 22/7, 3.

Posted by DeLong at July 4, 2005 05:49 PM