Alberta Ed unveils its contempt for a U of A maths critic

The prof who pointed out the steady decline in Alta. maths students gets a rough ride

The following account was given to me last week by a person who witnessed the events it describes. Since participation in these events was confined to those invited by the Department of Education, the proceedings were closed to the public and the media. One of those invited was Dr. John C. Bowman, a distinguished  professor of mathematics from the University of Alberta and a known critic of the government’s planned changes in the mathematics course. He was told that he would have 15 minutes maximum to make his case. Dr. Bowman was not asked to confirm our story, since this would involve him in a breech of confidentiality.

Now, as Dr. Bowman could see, a mere 15 minutes was on the face of it absurd. Whole books have been written for years on how to teach mathematics. What could possibly be accomplished in 15 minutes? But he also no doubt realized that he was, in the view of the department of education, a dangerous enemy. He knew far more about mathematics and how to teach it than probably any of its so-called “experts.” He had a doctorate from Princeton, had authored or co-authored more than 40 academic papers on the subject, and was a senior member of the university’s department of mathematics and physical sciences.

But there was worse. He was also in a prime position to judge the calibre of the maths students being turned out by the Alberta school system. And in a letter made public in June of 2016, he had not been sparing in his observations:

In recent years, the high-school preparation of students enrolled in first-year Engineering Calculus and Honours Calculus courses has noticeably deteriorated. Students are not coming in with the same level of skills. Exams that were the norm 20 years ago are too difficult these days. Ten years ago the discussion among the Math 100 and 101 instructors used to be where between 50 and 55 the cut-off for a passing grade should be. The discussion now is where between 45 and 50 that passing grade should be.”

Worst of all, the bizarre change which the department was now proposing to make in the maths program would without question diminish the student performance even more. Manitoba had already adopted the same program and found it a demonstrable failure. Moreover, parents had discovered what the department planned, and their alarm was documented. In a petition, precisely 18,317 parents had signed a protest. So yes, Dr. Bowman was definitely dangerous to the department. He could have 15  minutes. Max!! And by the way, that’s all anybody will be allowed, even if it did make the whole idea of popular input look like a charade. The planners obviously knew already exactly what they were going to do on all the subjects.

Though his colleagues undoubtedly told him it was hopeless, Dr. Bowman threw himself into the job. He talked to fellow maths profs and former maths profs, he talked to students and former students, he talked to others in this science faculty and to high school maths teachers. Piece by piece, point by point, he assembled his presentation, writing, rewriting and cutting, rehearsing his case over and over, while honing it down to exactly 15 minutes.

On Friday afternoon January 20, Dr. Bowman and two colleagues arrived at the U of A Dentistry Building, the assigned site of the curriculum hearings. Something had obviously changed there. They had to show identification to get into the building.

After the prior presenters left, the doctor and party were admitted to the presentation room. There must have been sixty people in there, but it was hard to tell who was doing what. Were they all curriculum planners?  And if they were not, who were they? All were talking to one another. It was difficult to see who was in charge. Assured by the department that full projection services would be provided, he delivered his computer stick and other material to an assigned projectionist. That’s when things went really wrong.

A lady responsible for the projector helped Dr. Bowman load his PowerPoint presentation, the central element in his case. He had scarcely begun it when the screen suddenly went blank. The equipment was not working. Dr. Bowman halted his speech  and tried to restart the projection. The department’s computer had somehow failed, so the doctor replaced it with his own. Soon thereafter the problem was  discovered in a faulty cable.

Meanwhile, the clock had been ticking. Surely, they wouldn’t count all this hopeless wrestling with electronic equipment as part of his vital 15 minutes. Then came a severe female voice above the hubbub of the crowd: “You have five minutes left, Dr. Bowman.”

He struggled on as best he could without his vital power point presentation. But soon the voice came on again to thank him and cut him off. That was that. Thus was a distinguished member of the university’s mathematics department given the opportunity to express his views and those of some colleagues on the teaching of maths to those revising the school maths curriculum.

Where were the media? Where were public observers? Why wasn’t this covered? Covered? Don’t be silly. These presentations are, like so much else in the curriculum revision,  strictly confidential. Open them to the public and who knows what might be said?  

Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered

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25 thoughts on “Alberta Ed unveils its contempt for a U of A maths critic

  1. If you want to know what the NDP’s end game is read there constitution, found at the bottom of their website. I recommend skipping directly to Appendix C at the end. There you will find three paragraphs that will shock you.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Constitution of the Alberta New Democratic Party
        16 of 16
        June 2016
        APPENDIX C
        The Principles and Aims of the Alberta New Democratic Party
        The New Democratic Party offers an alternative vision of the future based on the following three
        principles:
        Democracy is one of the most valuable parts of our heritage and recognizes that all citizens, including
        minorities, must receive equal civil rights with representatives elected by way of proportional
        representation. Our country will only be a genuinely democratic one when all people participate fully in
        determining the policies of the institutions which directly affect their lives. The necessary role of
        governments must be recognized in order to build an equitable and socially just society.
        Socialism is essentially the application of democracy to the economy. Economic democracy, i.e.
        democratic socialism, assures production to supply the needs of all people. Decisions about what shall be
        produced, when and where, and decisions about where we shall make our living and under what
        conditions, are now left largely in the hands of private interests. The market economy produces
        transnational corporations, who give private profit priority over public interest, social justice and workplace
        democracy. Through the efforts of many, we have achieved a degree of social and political democracy.
        Economic democracy demands a co-operative rather than a competitive system.
        Ecological Sustainability must permeate all economic and social policy. Meeting human material needs
        must not use more of Earth’s resources than can be renewed within each generation. Wastes produced in
        meeting needs must not endanger future generations’ rights to clean air, pure water and productive soil.
        Life on Earth is best protected by ensuring biodiversity, requiring recognition of each species’ contribution
        to the planet’s health. Consequently, we have to view other species not as resources for human wants,
        but as respected members of Earth’s living family. Human economic security is assured by reducing
        consumption, and is achieved by conservation programs. Such policies will also contribute to
        intergenerational equity.
        The New Democratic Party believes that only a revolution in thinking can lead to the establishment of
        democratic socialism.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Like the Lady of Shallot…the doom has come upon us…I knew that the NDP were/are at their core ideologically the antithesis of my own worldview …but this?! This is a level of fascism that I didn’t think they would have the brass to perpetrate. Can Alberta survive 3 more years of this?

    My warmest regards to you, Mr. Byfield…my dad always appreciated your bylines he was a fan.

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  3. Why would any sane person want to change Math. Politicians are down grading our young people, many of who already have had enough trouble in the workplace and as a senior the decline in their schooling has been in a downward spiral for many years which is the one thing that prevents these young people from giving an honest days work and keeps them from getting a higher rate of pay.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Similarly irritated by this. It reminds me of when elderly people speak of “The Digital”… small indicators that the speaker is out of touch with the topic.

      Like

    2. According to TheGrammarist.com:

      “Math and maths are equally acceptable abbreviations of mathematics. The only difference is that math is preferred in the U.S. and Canada, and maths is preferred in the U.K., Australia, and most other English-speaking areas of the world.

      “Neither abbreviation is correct or incorrect. You may hear arguments for one being superior to the other, and there are logical cases for both sides. One could argue maths is better because mathematics ends in s, and one could argue math is better because mathematics is just a mass noun that happens to end in s. In any case, English usage is rarely guided by logic, and these usage idiosyncrasies are often arbitrary. If you were raised in a part of the world where people say maths, then maths is correct for you, and the same is of course true of math. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.

      http://grammarist.com/spelling/math-maths/

      I suspect Mr. Byfield was raised in a day when Canada still followed UK spellings.

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  4. The dishonesty and lack of journalistic integrity of Mr. Byfield is quite shocking and the fact he claims to be a Christian. He has not posted the response of Prof. John Bowman to this article, or taken this article off.

    Like

  5. Source: AB NDP website – NDP party constitution

    APPENDIX C
    The Principles and Aims of the Alberta New Democratic Party
    The New Democratic Party offers an alternative vision of the future based on the following three principles:
    Democracy is one of the most valuable parts of our heritage and recognizes that all citizens, including minorities, must receive equal civil rights with representatives elected by way of proportional representation. Our country will only be a genuinely democratic one when all people participate fully in determining the policies of the institutions which directly affect their lives. The necessary role of governments must be recognized in order to build an equitable and socially just society.
    Socialism is essentially the application of democracy to the economy. Economic democracy, i.e. democratic socialism, assures production to supply the needs of all people. Decisions about what shall be produced, when and where, and decisions about where we shall make our living and under what conditions, are now left largely in the hands of private interests. The market economy produces transnational corporations, who give private profit priority over public interest, social justice and workplace democracy. Through the efforts of many, we have achieved a degree of social and political democracy. Economic democracy demands a co-operative rather than a competitive system.
    Ecological Sustainability must permeate all economic and social policy. Meeting human material needs must not use more of Earth’s resources than can be renewed within each generation. Wastes produced in meeting needs must not endanger future generations’ rights to clean air, pure water and productive soil. Life on Earth is best protected by ensuring biodiversity, requiring recognition of each species’ contribution to the planet’s health. Consequently, we have to view other species not as resources for human wants, but as respected members of Earth’s living family. Human economic security is assured by reducing consumption, and is achieved by conservation programs. Such policies will also contribute to intergenerational equity.
    The New Democratic Party believes that only a revolution in thinking can lead to the establishment of democratic socialism.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Absolutely shocking. Reminds me of my trips to the Soviet Union 30 plus years ago. Back then, we you used to mock the Soviet Union because of the planned incompetence, stultifying bureaucracy, endless platitudes, posters and propaganda, party functionaries and meetings that led nowhere…….

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am not surprised. Eggen, AB Ed and the ATA have their own destructive agenda, as demonstrated by the continuing of the PC’s “Inspiring Education” Mandate, based on Johnson’s 2010 Ministerial Order #001/2013. Eggen has refused to write his own Ministerial Order.
    For the second year in a row, Eggen has repeated the province-wide Grade Three Pilot Project (which teaches students to “guess” until they find “a comfortable” OR “friendly number”). All results have been reported as NA. A total waste of our Ed tax dollars, and another year lost to our students!
    Eggen dictates the K-12 Overahaul, and his minions carry it out, without question, or jeopardize their jobs. Eggen will NOT converse with parents, professional educators, or the 20,000 ordinary Albertans who signed Petitions. (I have an Aug 27/15) letter from him saying, “future correspondence regarding these [Math] matters will not receive a response from me, or from staff within my ministry.”) In the summer of 2016, his Deputy send an almost verbatim email to another parent.

    Eggen is a despot. We have repeatedly asked Premier Notley to remove him from his post. She has not responded.
    Discouraged.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I cannot fathom where these people imagine getting to if future people can’t do math. Far from being utopic, this will ruin universities and make them completely unviable, not to mention the impact it will have on first-world countries which exist primarily on engineering (ahem … math!). Are they trying to dumb us down so that they can exercise complete control over us? What a foolish thing to strive for during our fleeting lifetimes. Reading Orwell should be mandatory for politicians and high-schoolers alike.

    I’d like to see suggestions at the ends of these articles — what can I do to help fix this mess? The games they played with that mathematics expert were abominable, and I wish I was a fly on the wall to film the whole thing. Why the secrecy? Boy am I suspicious now!

    Like

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