Discussion: Discussants Reflect

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posted by: Arthur Camins on May 21, 2003 at 10:52PM
subject: context of reform and challenges
I found George’s comments about being more conscious about the larger
content for our work to very provocative. I think we need to be much
more explicit about the values behind why inquiry is so central to
mathematics and science education…no…to the purpose of education.
Frankly, I don’t think we’ll have much success in dealing with the
challenges to inquiry-based mathematics and science, to the pressure of
testing, or even teacher resistance unless we are clearer and more
direct. The work we are asking of teacher is just too hard unless it
is motivated by something beyond mathematics and science in the narrow
sense of the subject matter.

There are a number of implicit values that are the foundation upon
which to build our work. I place a high value on scientific thinking
and mathematical reasoning as a way to make sense of both the physical
and social realms. This is related to the notion that reason and logic,
systematic testing and altering of explanations in the light of
evidence, and openness to peer critique are superior to simple
intuition or prejudice as a way of knowing. Maybe in the current world
context this will have some resonance with teachers, parents, and
voters: The only chance we have of addressing issues of war,
inequality, poverty, prejudice, and environmental degradation is for
students to internalize the habits of mind and skills associated with
inquiry. They need to learn how to utilize them to make sense of and
interpret information and to make decisions.

Maybe we need to be more up front and public about the ideas behind our
work. In some sense, I'm challenging the notion that we have to
depoliticize the arguements about how to teach math and science and
about testing, because these are essentially disagreements about
values...about what different folks want for children. I do, however,
accept Deborah Ball's suggestion that we need to not dismiss the
challenges, but take them seriously and as a guide to improving and
examining our own cherished notions.
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