Discussion of my contact with
the UK Royal Society ACME with respect to my books "Elegance with Substance"
and "Conquest of the Plane"
Thomas Cool / Thomas
August 4 2011
The Royal Society of the
United Kingdom has set up the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education
(ACME). Retrieved from their
mission page today:
"The purpose of
having an independent Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME)
is to enable an effective and constructive partnership between Government
and the mathematics community. ACME aims to inform and advise the Department
for Education in order to assist in its drive to raise standards and promote
mathematics at all levels within education. It seeks to complement and
enhance, rather than replace, consultative procedures and aims for positive
progress rather than routine opposition to change.
My books Elegance
with Substance (EWS) and Conquest
of the Plane (COTP) represent dramatically different new approaches
to mathematics education.
The aim of ACME is to act
as a single voice for the mathematics education community to government,
in the sense that it aims to provide an authoritative, credible, balanced
and coherent position, which inevitably will not always represent the diverse
views that might exist across the mathematics education community
The Advisory Committee on
Mathematics Education (ACME), was established in January 2002, by the Royal
Society and the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK with the explicit
backing of all major mathematics organisations. ACME is currently supported
by the Department for Education, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust,
the Gatsby Foundation and a range of other organisations across the STEM
landscape." (STEM = Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)
There is something seriously
amiss in mathematics education. See this
paper by Hung-Hsi Wu published
in the Notices of the Amer. Math. Soc. 58 (2011), 372-384. Obviously EWS
and COTP don't fully agree with Wu, for example on fractions, but they
present an answer to some major problems.
Misguided views in and on
mathematics can be very costly, see my contribution to the Royal
Economic Society Newsletter July 2011 (my
EWS has been written as an
econometrician and math teacher, with a focus on both math itself and its
position in the economy. COTP has been written as a math teacher (with
knowledge of econometrics). I am a scientist and author and not a sales
person. The books are available for free in PDF, though I advise that you
better buy the hardcopies. For me, the focus is on the analysis, the books
are only a vehicle for communication. I would benefit financially when
these books would sell in numbers, or the software. I suppose other scientists
also have such benefits, sometimes required for mere existence.
The UK has roughly 25,000
math teachers and 35,000 science teachers (RS
estimates 2007 page 25 table 3.5), say a total of 60,000. EWS and COTP
are now priced at EUR 14.95 and EUR 24.95, say together EUR 40. A volume
print production of EWS and COTP would cost say half, i.e. EUR 20 in total.
This would include a handsome profit for me of EUR 1 per set, or EUR 60,000
in total. The cost for the UK Department for Education would be EUR 1.2
million, exclusive of mail. The advantage for the UK economy would be larger
though. (Possibly EUR 1.2 billion as a wild guess.)
For example, a fraction "two
and a half" is now written as 2½ (which reads as "two times
half") while my proposal is to use 2 + 1/2 (which reads as it says). A
timely adoption of my analysis would save a lot of silly time on torturing
children and costs in reprogramming in software. The didactics are awkward
in more respects. Children first have to learn that 2½ means addition
but later they have to unlearn part of this. Since 2A means multiplication
they have to learn that something next to something else not always means
addition but only in the special case of mixed numbers. This is only a
small example from a long list of examples.
Given the mission statement
of ACME, it makes sense that I contact them, and ask them to take it over
from there. This is my letter
to ACME and this is their
This exchange requires the
The English language has a nice
saying on this: Penny wise, pound foolish. Probably, though, it is plain
old bureaucracy and the "not invented here" syndrome and what have you.
With a proper dose of cognitive dissonance and refusion to acknowledge
error, ACME will henceforth oppose EWS and COTP with every means possible.
ACME didn't reply correctly
and showed misunderstandings, so that some more emails were required.
ACME sent me to other committees,
I tried one (RS Computing in Schools), and they sent me back to ACME.
ACME seems not to have studied
my books, at least they do not mention it, and Dame Julia explicitly rejects
my suggestion of setting up a working committee to start reading before
reacting. Apparently they simply do not know what they are talking about.
ACME construes a difference
between a "book" and an "analysis", and apparently does not know what books
are for. It is simply not true and rather disingenious what Dame Julia
states: "Setting up a working group to discuss a book on mathematics education
or recommending a particular book to government is not part of our remit."
We are speaking about an analysis (that I put in books). We are speaking
here about "raising standards" and "complementing and enhancing (...) consultative
procedures" by making a new analysis available to teachers so that they
can consider its value: and this is exactly the mission statement.
I am not a salesperson and I
do not wish to be forced into a role of "missionary to the natives" and
be sent off into the wilderness of the mathematics education community.
ACME has been set up to be that single voice for policy making. This is
their piece of cake. It would be a matter of policy making for the Department
for Education to make funds available so that teachers can consider the
new analysis. The DfE would do that if that new analysis merits attention.
So set up a process for checking that.
It is a bit insulting to me
as if I could not judge on the propriety of contacting ACME. I fully accept
ACME's right to reject my suggestion but would expect proper argumentation
and not the untruth that it would not be their remit.