Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why a Rigorous Math Curriculum?

Why oh why did the maths education community have to choose the word "rigorous"? The greatest problem about choosing a word like this is that "rigorous" has so many different meanings. In an incredibly informative NCTM Summing Up statement, Linda Gojak, NCTM president describes how many different ways there are of defining the word rigorous. The problem with having such a loose word is that it can be interpreted in so many ways depending on a particular individual's agenda. For example, there are myopic people like Angela Lee Duckworth who have taken the word to mean "grit" and are advocating that all children develop the type of rigor that is all consuming and totally at odds with theories of child development. Clearly some people will do anything to make a name for themselves and get to deliver a TED talk, even if it is the worst one I have ever watched.

How much better it would have been to use a word like "interesting' or "relevant" or "meaningful" or even "inspiring" to describe a math curriculum. Why does maths have to be rigorous for kindergarten children? It's like requiring them to engage in rigorous play, or rigorous reading. It's like asking fifth graders to engage in rigorous creative writing, or rigorous music or P.E. lessons.

Why can learning not be a natural process through which we hold children to achievable standards through activities they find rich in interest, relevance and motivation.  Why can maths not be inspiring, wonderful, relevant, meaningful, and simply interesting?

How many adults would classify the pursuit of their adult lives as rigorous? 

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