Math shouldn't be fun
It should be dull and irrelevant. Students should display no confidence in their abilities in the subject. And a healthy dose of low self-esteem goes a long way.

This is the difficulty of relying on test scores to define success in education. It is also the difficulty of making international comparisons. However, I believe there is a point here that I will discuss later.

The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., released a report last week comparing international test scores in math with other educational factors considered very important in American classrooms, including student confidence, relavence of the subject matter and the students' enjoyment of the subject.

Some interesting statistics:

6% of Korean 8th graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39% of US 8th graders. But Korean students far outscore American students in math tests. In fact, the 10 nations whose students enjoyed math most all scored below average on the math tests.

14% of Japanese math teachers surveyed reported trying to connect lessons to students' lives, compared to 66% of US math teachers. And Japanese students also far outscore American students in math tests. Interestingly, nations who attempt to focus on making math relavent to daily life score worst on these assessments.

As far as confident students go, however, ours do relatively well.

The international test results from 2003 and related surveys from 46 countries show that the world's most confident eighth-grade math students are found in the Middle East, Africa and the United States. Of the 10 countries with the highest levels of student confidence, only Israel and the United States scored higher than average on the international test, and their scores were far below those of the much less confident students in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Washington Post

This could be a study in one of two things. Either we can look at the tremendous sacrifice made to succeed at these tests in student confidence and general attitude toward the subject, or we can question the validity of progressive methodology which focuses on confidence before mastery. Or perhaps a bit of both.

The conclusion, however, I cannot argue with.

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said the report shows that schools need not be fun to be effective. "Schools should work on academics, not feelings," Finn said. "True self-esteem, self-confidence and happiness are born of true achievement."

I think that one of the greatest harms Progressive education has done to our children is the over-emphasis on self-esteem. Eliminating games of competition, downplaying the importance of passing absolute measures of success and even doing away with recognizable grading in order to protect the esteem of the child have taken from them the ability to experience and overcome challenges. With that, it has taken from them the sense of real achievement and the sense of satisfaction (although maybe not "happiness") that goes along with that.

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