It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s actually true

At the risk of engaging in the premature counting of chickens, it looks like I’m going to be involved in something off-blog that will expose my rants about the fucking graphing calculator to a wider audience. Like, wider by a few orders of magnitude. Exciting stuff. Exciting enough that I spent some time today researching the link between Texas Instruments and the math textbook industry that I wrote about a few months ago.

It’s worse than I thought. It’s scandalous, and everyone who has a stake in what students are taught should be outraged.

Here’s a tiny subset of what ten minutes of Googling got me:

  • An alliance between TI and textbook publisher Pearson Prentice HallPearson Prentice Hall and Texas Instruments to Publish Educational Products for High School Math Market. Never mind the creepy abundance of business jargon: far creepier are the repeated references to “increas[ing] student achievement”, “improv[ing] student performance”, “scientifically researched and standards-based instruction materials”, and the like, all waved around without either specifics or support. Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Show me the data, Pearson Prentice Hall and TI.
  • Here’s a beautiful example of technology making simple concepts complicated…The directions for performing these operations differ from calculator to calculator. The steps for a TI-82 are given on page 663 of the textbooks. For other calculators, you will have to consult the manual for instructions. Learn how to use these important functions… Oh, allow me to present a bold alternative to that shit: graph your bloody STRAIGHT LINE by hand, you goddamned punk.
  • Fostering Children’s Mathematical Power: An Investigative Approach to K-8 Mathematics Instruction. Here’s Activity File 0.1 – ZERO. POINT. ONE – in a book about teaching math to children: It may surprise children to learn that some calculations are too hard for a calculator. Encourage them to explore the limits of their calculators for each of the operations. For example, what is the largest addend that can be added on a Texas Instruments (TI) Math Explorer? I’ve got a word for this approach as a zero point first step toward fostering children’s mathematical power, and it ain’t “investigative”. Also: free cookie to anyone who can tell me why the TI in particular is necessary here. The $10 doodad I use to balance my checkbook could do just as well for this, maybe better.
  • Probably the creepiest material of all comes from the TI site itself. Take this, for instance. What do MTV®, Sesame Street ®, the WalkMan®, the DiscMan®, the Game Boy®, and the Brave New World of Mathematics Education ® have in common? A whole hell of a lot, apparently.
  • More from TI. Just…read the title, which I think is more fitting than the good folks at TI realize. I mean, just tie a bow around a big fat red foam A+, and it probably means about as much as a real A+ in a TI-based math class.

And there’s more. Much, much more. The skills-lite, calculator-heavy approach to mathematics education, which produces top high school students that are completely unprepared to do college-level math, won’t last forever. I just hope I’ll be around to bury it.

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