Common Core standards for mathematics are vital

In a recent letter, the writer advocates “extreme revamping” or eradication of the Common Core. My remarks address only the Common Core state standards for mathematics, standards that I wholeheartedly support. As a longtime critic of some of the disastrous curricular innovations in school mathematics in New York State, I am heartened by the return to curricular sanity.

As a mathematics professor, I welcome the Common Core’s emphasis on student mastery of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and functions at age-appropriate levels.

The writer wants children to “build self-esteem.” Mastering mathematical basics will contribute to that self-esteem. Additionally, such mastery will allow students to succeed at the college level in physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, economics and computer science, where genuine mathematical competence is often indispensable.

To master mathematics at any level, hard work, aka homework, is necessary. If teenagers are busy doing homework for their mathematics classes, they will have less time to get into trouble.

The Common Core recommends the use of dynamic computer software to illustrate geometric results. While dispensing with student mastery of the basics of arithmetic and algebra will lead to computer-assisted mathematical incompetence, the use of computer software to illustrate results in geometry can have a mesmerizing effect on a young student.

One young student described his experience with geometry this way: “Here were assertions, as for example the intersection of the three altitudes of a triangle in one point, which – though by no means evident – could nevertheless be proved with such certainty that any doubt appeared to be out of the question. This lucidity and certainty made an indescribable impression on me.” That young student was Albert Einstein. This result, and many companion results, can be beautifully illustrated by geometric software, like Cabri or Geometer’s Sketchpad.

Richard H. Escobales, Ph.D.