A King County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of parent plaintiffs, ordering the Seattle School Board to take another look at their math textbook choice.
This is another episode in the infamous “math wars,” which have pitted the traditional approach, which views math as a body of facts and emphasizes specific skills, rules, memorization and practice against a reform approach, which takes a more inquiry-based approach, viewing math as a series of connected ideas that should be understood conceptually first, with fluency following. Those who have been through phonics vs. whole language or a host of other similar debates in education will be familiar with the vehemence with which sides are chosen in these battles. While a balanced approach is in vogue in many districts, apparently many are still picking and defending sides.
I’ll leave aside for now my pent-up tirade about whether it is really the role of the courts to choose textbooks and focus instead on another issue. Textbooks are not the curriculum (or if they are, as one astute reader points out, you have a poor curriculum).
The view that any single textbook is the “curriculum” sadly ignores the role of teachers (as well as students) in the learning process.
There are many dynamics that affect learning in a classroom. Textbooks are not the most important of these. Teachers and the learning process they create and nurture have everything to do with how students learn.
Every student learns differently, has different skills, varies in language proficiency, has different interests, etc. That’s why differentiation of instruction is so important. No textbook, whether it be the “Discovering series,” Holt, or any one of many others is the answer for all students. Any teacher worth putting in a classroom knows this and uses a variety of resources, processes, products, activities, and projects to stimulate learning in a variety way.
Let’s give our schools and our teachers more credit than this court ruling does.