About a decade ago, the New York Times ran an opinion piece in which the authors argued for a renewed emphasis on the traditional algorithms for arithmetic. In particular, the authors claimed and lamented an increasing use of calculators as a supposed alternative to proper instruction in the algorithms:
The idea is that competence with algorithms can be substituted for by the use of calculators, and reformists often call for training students in the use of calculators as early as first or second grade.
No they do not. I do not know a single teacher who advocates calculator use in the second grade. I can’t say with certainty that you won’t find a self-proclaimed “reformist” who has made such a call, but it definitely is not “often”.
For Australians then being fed ACARA’s nonsense, there wasn’t much indication of straw in the Times article, and Burkard and I wrote a snarky re-response. For those still keeping score, ACARA’s new Curriculum has the following as its very first, and mandated, content description for Foundation (Prep):
name, represent and order numbers including zero to at least 20, using physical and virtual materials and numerals [emphasis added]
Thus it begins. But let’s go to the beginning beginning.
In 1988, Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements wrote an article, Reshaping School Mathematics in Australia 1788–1988 (paywalled). Near the end of their article, Ellerton and Clements discuss the “national consciousness” that began developing in the 1960s. They note the role of the Curriculum Development Centre, an ACARA-like Authority that existed in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Mathematics Curriculum and Teaching Program established by the CDC. In 1987, the MCTP coordinated the development of a National Statement on the Use of Calculators for Mathematics in Australian Schools:
Promoted and then published as a pamphlet by the AAMT, the Statement carried the express endorsements of the CDC, of all state and territory education authorities, and of the National Catholic Education Commission. Ellerton and Clements quote the first, foundational recommendation of the Statement:
… as far as resources allow, teachers should ensure that all students use calculators at all year levels (K-12) [emphasis in original]
Thus the beginning began.