My Back Pages: Math for 21st Century Citizens


BackpagesPleas for reform are sometimes justified with exaggerated indictments of the past or present, so it’s always refreshing—and often more convincing—when advocates for change present a clear-headed assessment of how things are and make realistic suggestions for improvement. In the December 1983/January 1984 issue of Educational Leadership, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics President Stephen Willoughby takes a sober look at the state of mathematics in the early 1980’s and makes practical recommendations for a successful future.

“Today the schools of our nation are doing more for more children with fewer resources than has ever been the case for any nation in the history of the world,” concedes Willoughby. Despite this achievement, however, he cites a number of factors—poor teacher preparation and students’ disinterest in mathematics, to name a couple—that point toward a potentially problematic future.

After reviewing the successes and failures of past reform efforts, Willoughby lays out a number of concrete suggestions to ensure that schools effectively prepare students for the future. Many of his recommendations, like smart hiring practices and professional development for staff, transcend mathematics instruction and easily apply to other disciplines. Others, like ensuring all students have calculators as early as possible and redefining computer science as a fundamental part of the curriculum, reflect his sense that changing times demand new ways of thinking from math educators.

More than 20 years later, Willoughby’s measured approach and thoughtful advice provides a great model for modern educators looking to the future.