Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Fuzzy? So’s your mamma.

Kudos to Karen Cole for rebutting the vapid, misleading reporting of Claudio Sanchez.

by Karen Cole

Oh, NPR, youâre supposed to be deeper than this. In a story on a recently released math curriculum report, reporter Claudio Sanchez launches right in on everyoneâs favorite mathematical whipping boy, "fuzzy math."

The "fuzzy" math lessons that kids come home with drive parents crazy and confuse even teachers. So, two years ago, alarmed by all of the fuzziness and U.S. students' lackluster performance on international math tests, the Bush administration asked a panel of experts to bring more coherence and depth to the math curriculum.

"Fuzzy Math" is like "politically correct." It's an insult people hurl when they don't want to think hard. The fact is, bad math curriculum comes in all flavors. Traditional single-answer approaches can teach without understanding, and the problem/project based approaches people call "fuzzy" can teach without content.

But the idea behind what people call fuzzy is simple and sound: If kids are never asked to do anything more than solve the next arithmetic problem in the book, how will they know what do do when they hit an honest-to-goodness problem in the real world? The real world doesnât present neat little one-step problems with the word "MULTIPLY" in bold type. The real world asks you to measure your room and figure out how much paint to buy. Clearly, there's more than one method for doing that, and kids should be taught, and allowed to practice, pulling together different math techniques to solve a complicated problem. That IS a creative process, but that doesnât make it less rigorous.

So, if we're all going to agree that some degree of automaticity and ease with standard arithmetical procedures is a good thing, let's also agree that kids who canât deal with fuzziness donât really have command of their math. And if educators or parents don't like the way we're currently teaching ill-structured problem solving, well, let's come up with something better instead of just giving up.

Because there's more to math instruction than preparation for algebra. There's also preparation for life.

— Karen Cole
Bigger Learning


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.