The Death of Math in America

As Americans cheered the latest shuttle flight liftoff on July 23rd with its extraordinary scientific payload, few knew how much mathematics and physics knowledge was involved to achieve this latest mastery of outer space. Few know that, in 1997, the latest year for which statistics are available, only 3,826 bachelor’s degrees in physics were awarded, the lowest figure in forty years. Fully half the students entering graduate student classes in 1998 were foreign born. Why? The answer, says Tom DeWeese, in the August issue of The DeWeese Report, published by the American Policy Center, is the “most bizarre of all of the school restructuring programs” in America today, mathematics.

“Math is an exact science loaded with absolutes,” points out DeWeese, an expert on educational issues and president of the Center, a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in Herndon, VA. “Today, however, math classes simply ignore math and talk about something else. Any real problem solving is performed on a calculator.”

The devastation of the teaching of mathematics in America is so broad and so deep that “Under the category, ‘New-New Math’, children are not taught to memorize multiplication tables. Those who promote the new teaching method believe memorization is bad. Instead, they say, children should be led to ‘discover multiplication.’ Students, they say, learn to multiply over several years by ‘thinking about math’ and therefore retain it longer.” No one can learn anything by simply “thinking about it”, notes DeWeese. “If that were true we could all build bridges by simply thinking about it or fly airplanes by thinking about it or write novels by just thinking about it. The very notion is absurd because all skills require a knowledge of the fundamentals and, at the core of all scientific and even artistic endeavors, is the education that children should receive beginning at the elementary schools level.”

“There is no shortage of programs that teach children nothing,” says DeWeese. One is called “Action Math” that, in theory, combines math, science, health, and physical education. In the end, the acquisition of fundamental math skills is lost in an unstructured hodge-podge of projects from which a child emerges with no specific knowledge of mathematics. “The indifference to the need for aiding the poorer students and encouraging the better ones with differing levels of instruction is creating generations of young Americans who have no real mathematical skills,” says DeWeese.

“The failure to properly teach mathematics, language skills, geography, civics and other core elements of our former educational system is putting America at risk as we enter a new century,” says DeWeese, “and Americans must now rescue their schools from a federal government that requires these new age programs producing children with no skills and no ability to make the moral judgements critical to our social and economic system.”

The following is an excerpt from THE FAILED FEDERAL EDUCATION POLICY, a commentary by Tom DeWeese, published in the August issue of The DeWeese Report, from the American Policy Center. To confirm permission to reprint, call (703) 925-0881 or (973) 763-6392.

By Tom DeWeese

The shuttle that left earth on July 23rd did so because an extraordinary amount of mathematics and physics permitted its engineers and other technicians to create this marvel of modern science. More math was required for its scientific payload. Today, in America, we have to import foreigners who possess these skills because our national educational system has been under attack for over forty years, resulting in generations of Americans who cannot perform the most basic skills.

Perhaps the most bizarre of all of the school restructuring programs in America is the teaching of mathematics. Math is an exact science loaded with absolutes. There can be no way to question the fact that certain numbers add up to specific totals. Geometric statements and reasons must lead to absolute conclusions. Today, however, math classes simply ignore math and talk about something else. Any real problem solving is performed on a calculator.

Under the category, “New-New Math” children are not taught to memorize multiplication tables. Those who promote the new teaching method believe memorization is bad. Instead, they say, children should be led to “discover multiplication.” Students, they say, learn to multiply over several years by “thinking about math” and will therefore retain it longer. Educrats don’t seem too alarmed that many children may never learn basic math structure through this random approach to an exact science.

There is no shortage of programs that teach children nothing. One is called “Action Math.” Back-to-basics education activist, Sarah Leslie, who has experienced it, spent two days just trying to figure out why her sixth grader, an excellent math student, was even in the course. There were, however, no options for advanced students because there were no other math classes provided. Action Math is another example of the integrated math, science, health and physical education. As Sarah describes it, “because the nature of this class is activity-oriented and project-based, do not expect your student to bring home a math book on a regular basis.”

She goes on to provide a verbatim explanation from the school as to how the grading system would work when all of the students were grouped together in a project. The school responded saying, “as in any class, differences in student abilities may require adjustments to individual assignments. Projects may allow students to select one of many ways to demonstrate competence in a particular skill area (Author’s note: measuring and collecting data, graphics or drawing conclusions). Modifications will be made, as needed, to accommodate for the rate and level of learning for specific students.”

Sarah expressed her concerns to the teacher that this system sounded like a “dumbing down” process if her child was placed in a group with overall lower math skills. “On no”, said the teacher, “in situations like that we will DUMB UP” It gets worse.

Perhaps the worst of all of the New-New Math programs is one called “Interactive Mathematics Program” (IMP). Billed as a college prep course developed by the University of California at Berkeley, IMP does not follow traditional sequence and therefore will not provide students with basic math skills.

One parent reporting on his child’s experience with IMP tells of a trail of misinformation and outright deceit surrounding the program. The parent reports, “we were told this is a college prep course and that it contained more rigorous academics and higher standards than traditional math. We were told that the traditional progression of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II would not be taught as the students would receive those classes in IMP.”

The father went on to say, “we were not told the IMP is integrated with English grammar, extreme environmental issues, HIV/AIDS instruction, social studies, science and geography. We were not told that standards had not been developed. We were not told that the academic content has been dumbed-down to the point that only about one fourth of the normal math content was being taught. We were not told that the students assessed themselves and their classmates for a grade.” This, in a “college prep” course. “Interactive Mathematics” promotes group-only student questions, has no practical problems and has a huge social engineering content.

Looking through the pages of the text book, one will find problems based on radical environmentalism, AIDS, child-abuse, social studies, science, geography, “finding the perfect group” and many others. For example, the child abuse problem has the student calculate the number of unreported child abuse cases, given certain statistics, and then asks each student “HOW THEY WOULD VOTE” on a child abuse screening program!

Social, political and especially environmental issues are rampant in New-New Math textbooks. One eighth grade math text making its way into classrooms is blatant. Dispersed throughout the book are short, half page blocks of text under the heading “SAVE PLANET EARTH.” One of the sections describes the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and tells students “how you can help.” The teacher’s edition lists additional activities and, after the lesson on endangered species, tells teachers to ask students to list threats to animals, including destruction of habitat, poisons and hunting.

The book contains short lessons in multiculturalism under the recurring heading “Cultural Kaleidoscope.” One such section gives information on Blamndina Cardenias Ramirez, a pioneer in developing multicultural educational practices. This is not math. It is nothing more than propaganda for the purpose of behavior modification.

Data is beginning to emerge on students who have been subjected to such “math” classes. From California, where it all started, they now have data on its first graduates; Top students at California-Davis can’t find math classes simple enough to gain basic skills. They are being shipped off to Community Colleges. In Palo Alto, students who have always scored high have seen standardized test scores drop from 86th percentile to 58th percentile. Sixty-three percent of the parents of middle school children pay outside tutors to get real math for their children.

Hundreds of thousands of students passed through the educational system before the transformation that began forty years ago. They learned the basic skills that permitted them to go onto to seek either higher education or become skilled workers. Today, the greatest problem facing today’s colleges and universities is the near total lack of basic skills required to acquire a higher level of knowledge and, in the work place, a comparable need to provide the education and training that no longer exists in today’s schools.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.