Carl M. Sherrill has been a classroom teacher for more than 35 years. In addition to his full-time teaching duties, he has taught classes for gifted students and has served as a mentor teacher and university extension instructor. Carl spent three summers as an instructor for Marilyn Burns Math Solutions. He holds an M.A. in math education and has researched mathematical problem-solving by visiting numerous classrooms to observe lessons and to interview students and teachers. In 2006 Carl was a delegate to the U.S.-China Math Education Conference in Beijing.
Carl lives in Calistoga, California, with his wife, Kristin Casey, and seven cats. He is a musician, a backpacker, and a voracious reader of nonfiction.
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." — Albert Einstein
“The art of teaching is awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” — Anatole France
“Avoid compulsion and let early education be a manner of amusement; compulsory education cannot remain in the soul.” — Plato
“Each student is not simply a learner, but . . . a full-bodied individual living partly in a world of reality and partly in a world of make believe, beset by inner conflicts and contradictions, yet capable of rational thought and action . . . by turn confused and clear-headed, frustrated and satisfied, hopeful and despairing . . . in short, a complex human being." — C. Hall and G. Linzey
“Textbook publishers’ thirst for the vast amounts of money to be earned when their publications are adopted . . . obviously is far greater than their interest in educating schoolchildren, so they have merrily capitulated to the pressure groups.” — Johathan Yardley
"Life is a daring adventure. . . or nothing." — Helen Keller
An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” We teachers certainly live in “interesting times,” as the math curriculum wars continue, and schools, parents, and students are caught in the crossfire.
As a classroom teacher of many years experience, I, for one, am not impressed with the new state standards and what some have touted as the “tough new math books.”
The adoption of math standards and textbooks is increasingly based on politics rather than on the experience of teachers and the findings of researchers. As each set of standards is published, textbook companies scramble to write programs which meet the new criteria, often producing poorly-written books which cover far too many concepts at each grade level. Like the Missouri River, these programs are a mile wide and an inch deep.
Moreover, “raising the standards” often merely means teaching in 1st grade what was once taught in 2nd grade, and so on – regardless of children’s readiness.
To make matters worse – in the rush to “cover everything” – there is a tendency to dispense with the hands-on materials and visual aids which learners need.
Thus the use of the new math books results in the worst of all possible worlds for many children – math instruction that is very difficult, yet fails to support real understanding .
As with the “reading wars” there is a middle ground. Kids do need basics. There are facts which they must memorize and procedures that should come automatically with practice. At the same time, kids should understand what they are doing, and be able to apply what they know in different situations.
It’s time to call a truce in the math wars. In Professor
Arnold Schoenfeld’s words “. . .we need more than change
for the sake of change, more than political rallying cries and radically
new goals and tests every few years. What we need is evolutionary
growth in the direction of well established goals. . .”
Otherwise, the pendulum will continue to swing – from “fuzzy
math” to “tough new math books,” whose message
to students is,
“If you don’t understand math –