“To me, math is numbers: it’s concrete; it’s black‐and‐white. I don’t understand why you need to bring this conceptual thing into math — at least not at this age.” This was a quote from a parent of a ten‐year‐old Pennsylvania child from a May 15 article at the NBC Washington (DC) website.
Let’s consider another quote: “Some of you who have small children may have perhaps been put in the embarrassing position of being unable to do your child’s arithmetic homework because of the current revolution in mathematics teaching known as the New Math.”
This did not come from another frustrated parent or a political stump speech railing against the Common Core (or “Satan’s Handiwork” as one Iowa mom put it in the same NBC article). It was in the introduction to a 1965 song titled “New Math” by mathematician and satirist Tom Lehrer. In the song, Lehrer goes on to say, “But in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer.” Sound familiar?
So why do we keep circling back to the same place? Why on earth does “this conceptual thing” matter in math, even for younger children?