The Journal Gazette
Thursday, May 12, 2022 1:00 am


By the book

Objection to proposed math text anything but cagey

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette


Due to an editorial writer's error, the number of textbooks approved by the Northwest Allen County Schools board is incorrect. Three books were approved; one was held.

In the 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate,” the detestable Sen. John Iselin testifies to Congress that he knows of 57 card-carrying Communists working in the Defense Department. It's a random number – 57 was on a Heinz Ketchup bottle he'd seen the night before. It's all an unclever ruse to show people that he's working hard to uproot the red menace.

Substitute the word “communist” for the phrase “critical race theory,” and it doesn't take a political scientist or a communication theorist to figure out that posturing and pandering to fear is virtue signaling for headlines.

This famous scene came to mind in trying to understand what Kent Somers was seeking to root out when he held up five proposed textbooks last month for further study. The Northwest Allen County Schools board vice president said these titles “have been identified in other districts or other places.”

On Monday, Somers gave his approval to four “outstanding” books. Education publisher Pearson's evocatively titled “Precalculus” was excluded by Somers because the author was “a little bit cagey in how he'd presented material.”

The textbook, now in its seventh edition, was written by Robert F. Blitzer, an emeritus professor at Miami Dade College where he was an award-winning mathematics teacher for 30 years. He has a master of arts in mathematics from the University of Miami and a doctorate in behavioral science from Nova University.

In promotional material for the book, Blitzer, sporting long hair, round wire-framed glasses and a walrus mustache, is quoted as saying, “Your world is profoundly mathematical.”

Drawing upon pop culture and up-to-date references, Blitzer wrote the series so that it would “appeal to students of all majors and connect math to their lives, showing them that our world is more mathematical than they realize.”

It's difficult to show how the world is mathematical without relying on real-world examples. It's worked in the marketplace. The sixth edition of “Precalculus” has a 4.5-star rating on out of 275 reviews and 3.7 stars out of 77 votes

Somers' assessment of the book went beyond “cagey,” which he didn't define, and veered into questioning Blitzer's intent.

“Are we talking about divorce rates by education levels? Are we talking about interracial marriages by such-and-such?”, The Journal Gazette reports Somers quipping at Monday's board meeting. “These are topics we're adding into story problems that really aren't part of mathematics.”

As if math needed to make students and parents more anxious, Somers blurts out an example sure to bait people.

Somers isn't naive; he's calculating. How we use mathematics, from determining life expectancy to figuring out the probability of Alabama football winning another national title to putting a rocket into space, is exactly why this book was published.

The only indoctrination here is an attempt to take abstract concepts that boggle the mind and apply them to everyday life. If such a book leads to young adults grasping complex theories and, possibly, applying them to their own lives and questions, then Somers is sleeping on the real beauty of education. 

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