Ted Byfield: Alberta Ed unveils its contempt for U of A maths faculty
When Dr. John C. Bowman, professor of mathematics at the University of Alberta, received a formal letter from Alberta’s Department of Education he was more than a little shaken. He would be allowed, said the letter, to express his opinion and that of other mathematicians in his department on the teaching of mathematics in Alberta schools to those entrusted with the revision of the Alberta school curriculum. But he must confine his remarks to 15 minutes, absolute maximum.
Now, as Dr. Bowman could see, this was on the face of it absurd. Whole books have been written for years on how to teach mathematics. What could possibly be accomplished in 15 minutes? But he also realized, that he was, in the view of the department of education, a dangerous enemy. He knew far more about mathematics and how to teach it than probably any of its so-called “experts.” He had a doctorate from Princeton, had authored or co-authored more than 40 academic papers on the subject, and was a senior member of the university’s department of mathematics and physical sciences.
But there was worse. He was also in a prime position to judge the calibre of the maths students being turned out by the Alberta school system. And in a letter made public in June of 2016, he had not been sparing in his observations:
“In recent years, the high-school preparation of students enrolled in first-year Engineering Calculus and Honours Calculus courses has noticeably deteriorated. Students are not coming in with the same level of skills. Exams that were the norm 20 years ago are too difficult these days. Ten years ago the discussion among the Math 100 and 101 instructors used to be where between 50 and 55 the cut-off for a passing grade should be. The discussion now is where between 45 and 50 that passing grade should be.”
Worst of all, the bizarre change which the department was now proposing to make in the maths program would without question diminish the student performance even more, he said. Manitoba had already adopted the same program and found it a demonstrable failure. Moreover, parents had discovered what the department planned, and their alarm was documented. In a petition circulating in Calgary, precisely 18,317 parents had signed a protest. So yes, Dr. Bowman was definitely dangerous to the department. He could have 15 minutes. Max!! And by the way, that’s all anybody will be allowed, even if it did make the whole idea of popular input look like a total charade. The planners obviously knew already exactly what they were going to do on all the subjects.
This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] Alberta Ed unveils its contempt for the U of A maths faculty