What if We Taught English the Way We Teach Math?

An excerpt from the article If We Taught English the Way We Teach Mathematics…:

Imagine that your only contact with “English” as a subject was through classes in school. Suppose that those classes, from elementary school right through to high school, amounted to nothing more than reading dictionaries, getting drilled in spelling and formal grammatical construction, and memorizing vast vocabulary lists — you never read a novel, nor a poem; never had contact with anything beyond the pedantic complexity of English spelling and formal grammar, and precise definitions for an endless array of words. You would probably hate the subject.

[via Reddit]

6 replies on “What if We Taught English the Way We Teach Math?”

I got sucked in at first, but the article wasn’t making much sense by the end. It’s addressing a phantom problem not intrisinc to math, but intrinsic to educators.

Where is this alternate universe where people are not using math skills every day outside of the classroom environment?

Have kids never had to glance at a clock and figure out 1) what the numbers mean 2) what time it is and 3) how many more minutes they have to waste time before they need to leave for school / turn off the TV and actually work on homework before the parents stroll in / etc?

Nobody’s ever bought gum from a neighborhood convenience store (or ice cream off a truck) with their allowance and had to figure out how much change was due back?

Never played street hockey and had to figure out where to place your stick to block the curb pass or make the one-timer?

I’ll grant that the number of us that have to compute equations in differential calculus every day is relatively small, but there’s plenty of math involved in everyday life. If a teacher can’t relate some of their material to examples from life, that’s not a fault of the curriculum — it’s a failure of imagination in the educator.

Is that the fault of the subject, or the fault of the guy/girl teaching it?

I thought that it was clear that the article’s thesis was that the problem was with the way math was taught, and not subject itself.

Sorry, I wasn’t being terribly clear. You’re correct, the article’s thesis is that the problem is with math educators as opposed to just plain educators.

I’m thinking it’s nothing unique to those teachers and professors that specialise in mathematics. There are plenty of boring educators teaching English, French, calculus, biology, history and so on that aren’t particularly good at relating how all of this stuff ends up impacting you once you’re outside academia.

Is math an especially egregious case? Dunno.

I guess the article is Slashdotted. Can’t get to it. But from my own experience, in math, as well as many other subjects, it’s all about the individual. I had the most dynamic, silly geometry teacher. I aced it. I had a boring, not very personable trig teacher, and I lost all interest in math for all time.

My senior year, the year after trig, I chickened out and didn’t take Calculus; I took the other senior math class – with the geometry teacher – and did fine, but spent most of the class being amused at Emily’s assignment notebook. Long story. But at the same time, I was taking Honors Physics, and doing really well, which any math chicken shouldn’t have done. But the teacher cracked me up.

If I’d had a fabulous trig teacher, I imagine I would have taken math at least once at Wellesley. As it was, I laughed at people doing problem sets while I was building sets in the theatre program.


It is particularly egregious for math. Mathematics is the subject with the highest percentage of underqualified teachers in California (40% apparently, when the mean for all subjects is less than 20%). I haven’t seen statistics for elsewhere, but I imagine it is similar.

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