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What makes a constructivist censor?

April 5, 2009 pm30 6:47 pm

Apparently, not ranting and raving. Not pushing “back-to-basics.” And, ironically, behaving rationally.

My comments on a constructivist blog got me banned (I think) a few weeks ago. A brief exchange of comments was going nowhere, and the author was getting nasty, calling me a liar, so I left a sum-it-up comment, which he blocked. He wrote a rambling e-mail, and I replied, asking 1) that he remove what we mutually understood to be a mistake, and 2) that he indicate that my response was blocked, not that I let stand by silence the charges directed at me. No correction. No note. No surprise.

It had been a while since I had engaged with a hard anti-teacher constructivist. Time had chipped at my memory, and I made novice mistakes, such as saying “constructivist curriculum” when I should have said “NSF-funded, constructivist-inspired curriculum” or somesuch. I also was surprised at how quickly I got labeled as a supporter of back to basics organizations (NYC/HOLD and Mathematically Correct) – I actively oppose the first. I was also surprised how quickly I got labeled a supporter of Saxon and Singapore. I don’t approve of either of those curricula. It was simply easier for him to argue against extremists of the other side than to deal with the real concerns of a teacher, drawn directly from experience.

—   —   —

The author of “Rational Mathematics Education” (Professor Goldenberg) published a rambling defense of constructivism in late February. “Constructivism,” he wrote, “doesn’t tell anyone how to teach” and he creates the typical false dichotomy between “lecture” and “constructivism.” All platitudes, none of which ring true for this teacher, who worked at an adoption site (11a23) for one of the NSF curricula. So I answered.

“Constructivism” may not tell anyone how to teach, but constructivist curricula often do, with a vengeance, and account for a fairly sharp parent/teacher reaction.

Now, anyone who’s been involved in this crap knows I goofed. I used the phrase “constructivist curricula” when I should have said “NSF-funded curricula” which means to all the world the same thing, but it’s a talking point for these idiots, and I walked right into it.

Sticking to their talking points, he immediately labels me a supporter of back-to-basics (I think he started with Saxon). Just not true. And of course “there’s no such thing as a constructivist curriculum”

In response I commented about the district I worked in, and another district where I’d been able to speak with teachers and administrators, here in NYC. And as I filled in details, it was clear that the resentment-generating orders came from trainers and publishers’ reps and administrators, not from the texts themselves.

So he grabbed onto that: it wasn’t the program that told us what we had to do, barred us from supplementing, etc, etc.

And then he went further. He claimed that some teachers like the programs, some don’t (in my district, those getting paid extra $$$ by the publisher were the only ones who liked Math Connections). He claimed that the bans on supplementing were justified to stop the teachers from abandoning the constructivist texts (or constructivist-inspired? who knows the right phrase). And he claimed that it was reasonable for researchers to require adherence to certain lessons during a pilot or a study. Of course I hadn’t written about a pilot or a study, but a full adoption.

Then he boasted about his knowledge of the district(s) I worked in. The lines are haughty, condescending. And wrong. He didn’t know the names of the districts and regions in NYC where he had consulted, which didn’t prevent him from putting on his professorial scorn for a regular teacher.

Oh, right. He finished by calling me a liar.

The comment that he blocked, his e-mail, and my response, all 3 are beneath the fold:

(My Banned Comment)

District 2 is the east side of Manhattan, and all of downtown save the lower east side/Chinatown.

I did not work there. My stories from D2 are both indirect, and from people who worked there (both teachers and administrators). The orders not to supplement in D2 were widely discussed, and, at the time, not disputed. In addition, when some schools in D2 were exempted from this constraint, they boasted about this to parents and to prospective new hires. When I interviewed at a new high school there, the director quite proudly told me that we would be exempt from the district requirement.

I experienced my fill of consultants, directly, in the Bronx HS Division, including directions to stick to the text, to stick to the publisher’s prescribed lesson format, homework, and assessment.

I have no idea what Region you are talking about. Region 2 was in the east Bronx. Region 9 incorporated Districts 1 and 2 in Manhattan and D7 in the south Bronx.

I wish you had not suggested that I’d made things up (and especially if that was based in part on your fuzziness on which part of the DoE hired you. I understand; it can be confusing.)

Here are some of my first hand experiences:  <a href = ‘’>in 4 posts (with a fifth coming)</a>. Your readers can decide if your attack on my integrity rings true.
[Look carefully above. Can you find the trigger for the ban? Evidence. Direct testimony. Correction. One of those set him off. I just don’t know which.]

(His e-mail response.)

First, I don’t think I’m going to let you turn my blog into your sounding board. You’ve got your own and I’m sure that it continues to spread your views of “constructivist” math to those who are willing to listen. There’s no shortage of similar propaganda. I don’t feel obligated to promote your particular brand.

Second, yes, I erred in saying Region 2 when I clearly meant Region 9. When I worked there in 2004, there was no longer a District 2, as you know, and if there’s a Region 2, or was, I had and have no knowledge of it. But I’m not confused about where I worked (Manhattan and the South Bronx) or which middle and intermediate schools I served. Further, I wasn’t hired or paid by anyone in the NYC Public Schools, thanks. I worked for an independent school reform group, was paid by grant money of theirs, by them.

As for your experience with consultants, that has nothing whatsoever to do with my work. I didn’t boss anyone around and was not brought in to do anything of the kind. If someone else was or is alleged to have done so, it’s utterly irrelevant to try to tar me with that brush. Further, I didn’t see any outside consultants doing that sort of thing. I did see a few folks from the Regional Office who tried to dictate, with at best mixed success. As a rule, they kowtowed to building principals more often than not. There’s little doubt that a big system like New York’s has a lot of problems with power and how it is administered. You, I am sure, were you in a position to do so, would run things with a very different style, would respect everyone’s viewpoints, and never throw your weight around. I know a morally superior person when I hear one and have little doubt you are a man of high principles.

All that said, I’m not finding evidence of your initial claims about the curricula you dislike, only very peripheral stuff about “consultants” and district personnel. But nothing about the books or their authors dictating squat. And that was your claim: that these programs dictate, apparently with great rigidity, how teachers may teach.

Further, I’ve found no answer from you to the point that if one is piloting a program, especially with grant money, there is going to be the expectation from the foundation or agency that gave the grant that the books or methods or tools or whatever are actually being used. What a wacky thing THAT is, eh, Jon? So what exactly would you expect to happen? Would it be different were the program Singapore Math or something you picked were you running things? Should people seriously believe for a nanosecond that were the Mathematically Correct/NYC-HOLD folks in charge that individual teacher integrity would be respected, let alone promoted? Pull the other leg, Jon, it’s shorter.

[notice, again, I am getting Singapore and NYC-HOLD thrown at me. He is defending his personal honor — even though I know nothing of his work. He counters my direct evidence with claims of what he did not see in 6 part-time months in a couple of schools. And he repeats the nonesense about the pilot]

(my e-mail response)

The adoption of Math Connections in the Bronx, the one I experienced directly, was borough-wide. It was no pilot. My experience was both with NYC teachers who the publisher employed part-time, and the publisher’s own full-time employees. TERC and CMP in District 2, and no, I was not there, were full adoptions, not pilots.

Your work? Not a concern of mine. Only your response to Bass and Braams and whoever else, which missed how nasty the trainers and publishers have been in the field. By the way, whether the orders come from the publisher, author, trainer, researcher, superintendent — makes no real difference to us. So yes, I am sure you are absolutely correct, the orders must not have come from the authors. I am also sure that it doesn’t matter to most teachers. By the way, when you worked in Region 9, District 2 continued to exist. Still does.

My work is teaching. Full time. Beyond that I am active among math teachers in my state. I advocate, in mathematics, resisting the ideologues from both sides. That includes the back to basics people, the direct instruction people on one side, and the progressive/constructivist/NSF curriculum people on the other.   I have no interest in bossing anyone around, no interest in any job but teaching. I do strongly believe that teachers are almost completely ignored by both sides, and that teachers have much more sensible ideas than either of you.

You don’t want that on your blog? It’s your blog. You can do what you want. But be honest enough to
1) remove the attack on my integrity; and
2) to indicate that my response was not welcome, not that I chose not to respond.

[This was a month ago. There was no response]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2009 pm30 7:47 pm 7:47 pm

    MPG is a fascinating case.
    even more oblivious to his own blindspots
    than most politically committed actors.
    we’d probably agree about almost everything in life
    but were antagonists for years in a couple of
    math-ed email lists. finally it got no fun
    because his responses would have essentially
    nothing to do with whatever *i* was getting at…

  2. ajax1992 permalink
    April 26, 2009 am30 8:47 am 8:47 am

    MPG is fascinating – because he’s one of the few reformers who can provide us with some insight into what is going through a reformer’s mind at least his. I’m still trying to connect how he got involved in defending a superintendent that was being disciplined by her school board. At some point during a blog session, one parent finally quipped what in deuces he was posting for, since he was living in Ann Arbor, not Cambridge, OH? His posts are all over the math forum attacking his antagonists. So it can’t be much fun for him (sadomachist personality?)

  3. December 13, 2009 am31 2:34 am 2:34 am

    Gee, I wish I could have seen this horse manure when it was fresh. Jon’s self-serving versions of reality are amusing. As are Vlorbik’s. As for my poking my nose into various battlegrounds, I’m sure anyone who actually pays attention to the Math Wars knows that Wayne Bishop, Dick Askey, H. H. Wu, Jim Milgram, David Klein, and other “math warriors” stick THEIR noses in wherever and whenever they can. But that, of course, is okay with you fellows.

    As for my personality, getting it analyzed by someone who wouldn’t know sadomasochism from salami might be the funniest thing I’ve read today, not counting Andy Borowitz’s latest column.

  4. vlorbik permalink
    December 17, 2009 pm31 4:51 pm 4:51 pm

    i’m not at vlorbik-dot-com anymore.

  5. Donna permalink
    March 31, 2010 am31 5:48 am 5:48 am

    Just curious – why don’t you like Singapore Math? I can see not liking Saxon Math, but from what I have seen, Singapore has a lot to offer – at least at the elementary grade levels. Conceptual understanding framework is strong, but master of basics is strong.

    Just curious.

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