Is Math Like a Missile Shield?
Lee Stiff thinks so; he compared the two when he spoke about mathematics curricula in Columbia:
He said letting local districts set curricula was like having personal defense strategies. Some things are better left to the federal government.
Stiff’s metaphor continued: If you don’t like SCUD missiles, it doesn’t mean you should try to shoot down a plane with a rifle "just because that rifle worked for my grandaddy."
Here are a few ways in which math curricula differ from missile shields:
1. There’s general agreement about missile shields, not about math curricula. People might argue about military priorities and the amount of money we should spend on defense, but everyone agrees that we should protect the country. If a missile shield does that, it’s generally considered to be successful. On the other hand, there’s a lot of contention about how to teach even the most basic math concepts. People disagree about what a good math curriculum should accomplish. If the math wars had to be settled at the national level, we’d see the situation in Columbia on a much bigger scale.
2. Missile shields are expensive; math curricula are cheap. All the taxpayers in the United States together pay for a missile shield, but each school district buys its own math curricula. There’s no reason a district can’t buy a few different curricula, as Columbia does for some grades right now. Because it’s easy to buy math curricula at the local level, purchasing decisions should be made at the local level.
3. The benefits of a missile shield are dispersed; the benefits of a math curriculum are concentrated. A missile shield protects many people, all across the country. A math curriculum helps (or hurts) the particular children in a district who learn it. Although we all benefit when other people are well-educated, those benefits are not spread out evenly across the country. If a city adopts an excellent math curriculum, that city benefits from it more than any other place does. And most of the gains go directly to the students themselves.
Math curricula are not the same as missile shields. We shouldn’t institute a national math curriculum based on that false analogy.