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False distinction

In his Feb. 9 letter, Counting on math strategies, Neil Dempsey draws a false distinction between "understanding" and "rote learning." In fact, these are complementary activities, not mutually exclusive ones.

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One does not become a concert pianist without endlessly practising scales and knowing, without conscious thinking, what a key signature tells you about how to strike the keys. One does not become an Olympic swimmer by letting the athlete "gravitate to their own procedures" or "invent their own methods."

Unfortunately, whether students like it or not, discipline, memorization, learning facts and endless practice are all essential aspects of gaining mastery of any field -- and of "lifelong learning," too. This unpleasant reality is not negated by simple metaphors such as "training circus animals" versus "shaping creative young minds."

The proof of any pudding is in the eating, and I have seen the results of these trendy new methods in my classes year after year. Students can't do the simplest math without reaching for their calculators; they have no feel for figures and display appalling numeracy skills.

Of course, not all students make such a dismal showing. Most of my Chinese students, whose schooling often entails precisely the "rote learning" and stultifying practices that Dempsey so deplores, are quite adept at doing the calculations that stump so many of my Canadian students. Go figure.



Asper School of Business

University of Manitoba



Neil Dempsey reveals his ignorance of mathematics when he writes, "The algorithm ... remains just that: a tool." Yes, standard (vertical) algorithms for arithmetic are tools, but they are much more than that. They are central mathematical procedures that lie at the heart of the subject and they are absolutely essential for understanding later mathematics.

Therein lies a huge part of the problem with math education today. Too many people who do not have a broad understanding of math themselves are advising on what is and isn't important in mathematics.


Anna Stokke

Department of mathematics and statistics

University of Winnipeg


Trivializing comparisons

Michael Zwaagstra's myopic column Education faculties should disappear (Feb. 3) underscores the complexity and reality of our work as education professors. His binary comparisons trivialize the purpose and work of education faculties.

Phrases such as "the self-imposed isolation of faculties of education" and "the adoption of the whole language theory for teaching reading" and an uncritical acceptance of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences as gospel certainly do not reflect my reality as an education professor or the work of my colleagues.

Many education professors are actively engaged in collaborative research with other faculties in the academy. A central part of our work involves reaching out to the community in many different ways.

Zwaagstra should become more familiar with recent texts and articles in the areas of educational psychology and language and literacy learning. This would enable him to write a more balanced critique. I cannot help but wonder where the source of his anger, cynicism and contempt of education faculties rests.

Interestingly, Zwaagstra's negative perspective of education faculties did not deter him from completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, nor did it deter him from co-authoring a text book, What's Wrong With Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, with two education professors.


Karen Magro

University of Winnipeg


Fatality has occurred

In his Feb. 9 column, Putting a stop to driving with CrackBerry, Gordon Sinclair states that maybe some horrific collision caused by a driver texting or talking on a hand-held device" might force the government to introduce demerits for breaking this law.

As I recall from news reports, the fatal accident on Dugald Road in September 2011 was caused by one of the drivers texting. So we already have our "horrific collision."

I commute 40 minutes to and from work daily, and on just about every commute, I have noticed drivers texting or talking on their cellphones.


Claire Walter



Serious safety risks

Re: Nuclear waste is a hot issue (Feb. 9). As Jonathan Naylor implies, waste is the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry. Despite 60-plus years, no country has found a credible, long-term solution to deal with its nuclear waste problems.

The accumulation of high-level waste in spent fuel ponds or interim storage sites and the dumping of so-called low-level radioactive waste into shallow landfills pose serious safety risks. Is this really what we want to pass on to future generations?

The process of finding a site to bury the high-level spent fuel has dragged on for decades as reactors keep churning out more spent bundles. Also important to note is high-level wastes (such as spent nuclear fuel or byproducts of nuclear reprocessing) must be stored for thousands of years.

Reprocessing is no solution. Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in order to access the plutonium leaves behind 99 per cent of highly radioactive waste to kick down the road. Reprocessing is also prohibitively expensive and poses serious proliferation risks by separating the bomb-ready plutonium from irradiated spent fuel.

There's just too much to ignore to justify storing nuclear waste in Flin Flon.





Signatures required

In his otherwise good letter, Controlling Glocks (Feb. 8), Michel Trahan omits one important component to the acquisition of a firearm.

Section D and E of the application for a possession and acquisition licence under the Firearms Act requires the applicant to provide information about the current and former conjugal partners.

Boxes 17 and 18 in these sections require the signatures of the applicant's current or former conjugal partners. If the signatures are not provided, the chief firearms officer has a duty to "notify them of your application for a firearms licence."

In real terms, this means the current or former partner or both must give permission for the applicant to acquire and possess a firearm. If they do not grant permission, the application is denied and the application fee is not refunded.

We may thank the influence of Montreal-based special-interest groups for this policy, which now relegates law-abiding men to second-class-citizen status.





Misleading headline

As a senior driver, I was caused some concern by a Feb. 7 article. The front-page pointer, Older drivers face more impaired charges, and the Page 4 headline, Older drivers facing more impaired charges, give the impression the article refers to seniors, when in reality the article talks about 26- to 40-year-olds.

These headlines could have been more accurate.



East St. Paul

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2012 A11

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