Carol Fry Bohlin
on November 9, 2000
This may be a good time to revisit some of Lynne Cheney's views
regarding education in general, and mathematics education in
"The Sizzling Lynne Cheney" by Suzanne Fields
Source: Jewish World Review - 31 July 2000
THE DICK CHENEY NOMINATION is good for education. That's because his
wife Lynne is a rigorous critic of what's wrong with public schools
-- the textbooks and curriculum, as well as the mush of
multiculturalism that seeps into the classrooms at our finest
colleges and universities.
Talk about a bully pulpit. She can be a spokeswoman for restoring the
dignity of honest intellectual debate, focusing like a laser
(remember that expression) to expose the muddled thinking that
corrupts academia and the rest of our culture.
As a veep's wife, she can show what's rotten in the culture with the
zest and zeal that Betty Ford brought to drug abuse. Feminists who
say they like strong, intelligent, intellectually independent women
will get their wish in Lynne Cheney.
But certain feminists only like women who agree with them, and Lynne
Cheney is not a "go along'' kind of woman. She is -- if you will
excuse the sexist phrase -- "her own man.'' You can read that first
hand in her book "Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country
Have Stopped Making Sense -- and What We Can Do About It,'' first
published in 1995. Margaret Thatcher praised her for standing up to
the bullies of political correctness, and George Will wanted to award
her the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the culture war.
When she was director of the National Endowment for the Humanities,
she discovered that humanities texts had been transformed into
political documents, reduced to issues of "gender, race and class.''
Homer, Shakespeare and Milton were denigrated as "male chauvinists,''
and there was a determined attempt to get them out of the classroom,
the effects of which are still with us today. (Without irony, some
pundits -- even those who married one -- have sneered at Dick Cheney
as "just another white male.'')
Lynne Cheney wrote her Ph.D. thesis on Matthew Arnold, whose guiding
principle for studying the humanities was "a disinterested endeavor
to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the
world.'' This is what must be restored to education in America.
"Lynne Cheney has the quaint notion that our universities ought to
uphold the ethical and professional standards they profess --
integrity, competence, civility,common decency,'' says Eugene
Genovese, a scholar and proponent of academic freedom who staunchly
defends her criticism of the academy.
Dick Cheney says he wants to restore a spirit of civility in
Washington, which is a reflection of his political style. Lynne
Cheney wants to revitalize our understanding of compassion, returning
it to its original meaning.
She recounts a terrible murder in South Philadelphia in 1994, when a
man operating a Mr. Softee ice cream truck was killed by a 16-year
old when he wouldn't give up his money. What extended the shock of
this sordid episode was that as the driver lay dying in the street,
neighborhood teenagers composed a rap song on the spot: "They Killed
Mr. Softee.'' When the dying man's friend -- another ice cream
salesman -- arrived, the teenagers ignored his grief and, laughing,
demanded that he give them ice cream. Death was depersonalized.
For the perception of compassion that was absent from this scene,
Lynne Cheney, blames a culture of divisiveness that emanates from an
intellectual elite celebrating differences and victimhood rather than
the richness of a common humanity.
She echoes columnist Bob Greene, who fears that America has
"increasingly become a nation of citizens who watch anything and
everything as if it is all a show.''
The Democrats who scorn W.'s choice of Dick Cheney -- along with much
of the punditocracy -- deride him for having the admirable qualities
of a public servant rather than the showier talents of a performer:
"Where's the pizzazz? Where's the sizzle?'' Perhaps they prefer an
actor out of the TV show "West Wing'' than a real-life chief of staff
and defense secretary (though many of these same critics derided
Ronald Reagan for "acting''). Where's the seriousness?
Dick Cheney offers plenty of that, with gravitas (this week's
cliche). But if you want snap, crackle and pop, keep your eyes
focused on the Second Lady (in waiting).
Whole Hog for Whole Math
By Lynne V. Cheney
The Wall Street Journal
February 3, 1998
"Whole math" is a form of instruction that has kids develop their own
methods of multiplying and dividing, ask questions of one another
rather than of teachers, and learn that answers that are close to
correct are good enough. It's a phenomenon familiar across the
country, but nowhere has it been embraced more enthusiastically than
in California. Last December, however, the California State Board of
Education struck a blow for common sense, voting unanimously to roll
back whole math and to put in place rigorous, back-to-basics
Parents opposed to whole math, many of them mathematicians,
scientists and engineers, cheered the board on. But at the last
minute, entering the fray in favor of whole math, was the National
Science Foundation. On the day of the vote, Luther Williams, head of
the NSF's education directorate, sent off a fax declaring that what
the board was about to do was "shortsighted and detrimental to the
long-term mathematical literacy of children in California." Moreover,
he wrote, the "Foundation currently maintains a portfolio exceeding
$50 million in awards to six public school systems in California,"
and that funding would be in jeopardy, he warned, should those school
systems change direction.
Mr. Williams's letter "was a clear threat, a last-ditch effort," says
state board member Janet Nicholas. And while it didn t change board
members' minds, it did cause Ms. Nicholas to see the NSF in a new
light. "I used to hold NSF in high regard, "she says. "I thought of
it as an objective purveyor of facts, a source of analytic review.
But it's a bully."
Alan Cromer, a physics professor at Northeastern University in
Boston, says that the NSF began to lose its moorings in the early
'90s, when the education directorate "latched onto constructivism," a
philosophy that views knowledge as something that each of us creates
rather than something with its source in the physical world.
Constructivism provides the rationale for encouraging elementary
school students to invent their own ways of multiplying and, when
stymied, to ask other children for help. Peers are unlikely to know
enough to provide answers -- and thus interfere with the individual's
According to Mr. Cromer, NSF review panels for elementary and
secondary education are now largely composed of people friendly to
constructivism. In his book, "Connected Knowledge," he describes some
of the results, including an NSF-funded middle-school science
textbook that includes an exercise in which students squat by their
desks while the teacher pops popcorn. The students gradually stand as
the intensity of popping increases and then, with their eyes closed,
make a graph of the event. "The point of this, believe it or not,"
Mr. Cromer writes, "is to demonstrate diversity. Each student, you
see, will draw a different graph."
Mr. Cromer speculates that the reason constructivism has taken hold
is that it confers status. Math and science educators are stuck in
education departments, he observes. "What is their expertise?" he
asks. "Constructivism gives them something to be expert on. It helps
the professional lives of a marginalized group of people."
But constructivism has also been embraced as a way to transform
science from "a white male domain," in the words of one NSF grantee,
into an undertaking more in tune with "the sensibilities and values
orientations of the underrepresented." This grantee, the New York
State Systemic Initiative, is one of 59 projects in 42 states that
together receive more than $100 million from the taxpayers a year to
promote ideas like whole math on the grounds that they will, as the
New Yorkers explain it, "expand the caricatured image of science"
from "logical" to "creative" and thus create a "science for all."
Another NSF grantee, the Interactive Mathematics Project [sic], a
highly controversial textbook series developed with more than $16
million in taxpayer funds, promises to make "the learning of college
preparatory mathematics accessible to students, such as women and
minorities, who traditionally have been under-represented in college
mathematics classes." This will be done, according to the IMP
application, by de-emphasizing mathematical facts and formulas,
having students work in groups, and making sure that each of them has
a calculator at all times.
But why will women and minorities fare better if science and math are
presented as artistic and cooperative enterprises? Why will they
benefit if everyone carries a calculator? The race-and-gender
activists who advance these ideas seem not to realize that they are
advancing stereotypes that portray women and minorities as inept at
logic, competition and mental calculation.
In fact, the Department of Defense has found that instead of
benefiting women and minorities, whole math hurts everyone. In 1995,
whole-math curriculums were introduced into the department's overseas
elementary and middle schools. A year later, when some 37,000
students took the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, scores dropped
in all racial groups.
A dozen members of Congress have sent a letter to President Clinton
expressing their disapproval of the NSF's attempt to influence the
California State Board of Education. "To use the hammer of possible
withdrawal of federal funds to force a state into compliance with
unproven practices is unconscionable," they write.
Perhaps Mr. Clinton -- who's so impressed with the National Science
Foundation that yesterday he proposed to increase its budget by some
10%, to $3.77 billion -- can use his vaunted rhetorical powers to
explain what has happened to objectivity and judgment at the National
Science Foundation -- and to inquire why this agency, like the
National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the
Humanities, seems unable to maintain critical distance from trendy
and harmful ideas.
Mrs. Cheney, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
was formerly chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Wall Street Journal
September 29, 1997
A Failing Grade for Clinton's National Standards
by Lynne Cheney
Steven Leinwand, who sits on the committee overseeing President
Clinton's proposed national mathematics exam, has written an essay
explaining why it is "downright dangerous" to teach students things
like "six times seven is 42, put down two and carry the four." Such
instruction sorts people out, Leinwand writes, "anointing the few,"
who master these procedures, and "casting out the many." As Mr.
Leinwand tells it, there might once have been an excuse for such
undemocratic goings-on, but we can now, because of technology, throw
off "the discriminatory shackles of computational algorithms."
House and Senate conferees who will soon be deciding what to do about
the Clinton plans for national testing ought to read Leinwand's
essay, in part because it helps explain why the committee on which he
sits recommended a national math exam that will avoid directly
assessing "certain knowledge and skills such as whole number
computation." And in case the exam might indirectly assess whether
eighth-graders can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, the committee
recommended that every student be armed with a calculator throughout.
But the most important reason for conferees to read this essay is to
gain an appreciation for the kind of thinking that has become all too
common in the educational establishment. Although his ideas might
seem extreme, Leinwand is not a marginal figure. He is not only on
the committee overseeing the president's proposed math exam, he is a
consultant to the Connecticut Department of Education, sits on the
board of a $10 million National Science Foundation mathematics
program, and advises a standards-setting project being funded with
tens of millions of dollars from the Pew and MacArthur Foundations.
Since 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics set
forth a radical vision for how mathematics should be taught, ideas
like Leinwand's have increasingly become the order of the day.
Mathland, an instructional program widely used in California's
elementary schools, never does show kids the standard U.S. procedure
for multidigit multiplication. But, in an apparent fit of
multiculturalism, it does offer instruction on the very complicated
way in which the ancient Egyptians managed these matters.
In the current debate, many otherwise sensible senators have been
convinced that safeguards can be put in place to keep harmful fads
from influencing standards and assessments. Recent history does not
support this optimism. A few years ago, as chairman of the National
Endowment for the Humanities, I awarded a contract to develop
national history standards. Although I required detailed plans from
the contractor and had them thoroughly reviewed by knowledgeable
people, the standards that were finally delivered were so suffused
with political correctness that I felt obliged to condemn them--as
did ninety-nine members of the United States senate.
The federal effort to set English/language arts standards produced
such a muddle of trendy thinking that in 1994 the Department of
Education cut off funding. Late last week, Secretary of Education
Bill Riley backed off from the math test into which his department
has recently poured thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands --
perhaps millions -- of dollars. Calculator use should be narrowly
restricted, the Secretary said.
Some in the Senate advocate turning national testing over to the
National Assessment Governing Board, a bipartisan group appointed by
the secretary of education, but that won't prevent foolish ideas from
making their way into national tests. In order to fulfill the vision
of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the board reduced
the computational part of the 1996 National Assessment of Educational
Progress math exam by 20 percent for seventeen-year-olds and
increased the portion of the exam on which they can use calculators
to well over a third.
Meanwhile, there is good work going on in the states: sound history
standards in Virginia and Texas, admirable English/language arts
standards in Massachusetts. To be sure, there have been fiascos, most
notably with reading and math standards in California, but pressure
from concerned parents has turned California's reading program
around, and there has been significant progress in restoring a
mathematics program strong in the basics.
Setting standards and tests at the state level is no guarantee of
success, but the accomplishments there certainly outshine the federal
record, and the good work that has gone on outside of Washington
could very well be rendered moot by a test created inside the
Beltway. Even if a certain state decides not to participate in the
Clinton testing plan, a federal test will strongly influence the
textbooks used in that state's schools and determine the way its
teachers are trained. And if that test is the disaster that the
record indicates it will be, the result could be a national calamity.
The President has threatened to veto the labor, health, and human
services appropriations bill if congress blocks his plans for
national testing, and many members of the Senate are hesitant to
oppose him, particularly since a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that
the administration has been passing around shows overwhelming public
support for national testing. But Senator John Ashcroft (R., Mo.),
trying to rally his colleagues to kill the Clinton plan, cites
another part of the same poll. It shows that when pollsters explain
that the federal government would establish the test and spell out
standard pro and con arguments to those being polled, support for
national testing drops to less than half.
"We should test our kids," Senator Ashcroft observes. "We need that
accountability in education. But what we don't need is the federal
government coming up with the tests we use."
Here is the letter send to the Wall Street Jounal in response to the
June 11, 1997 article by Lynne Cheney.
United States Department of Education
The Deputy Secretary
Mr. Ned Crab, Letters Editor
The Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281
Dear Mr. Crab,
Over the last several years, polls have shown that Americans place
education at the top of their domestic agenda. Americans want
results. They want to know that the students everywhere are
mastering basic skills and beyond and developing into successful,
In this climate of heightened focus on results in states and
districts across the country, President Clinton has introduced a new
stimulus: voluntary national tests in reading at the fourth grade and
mathematics at the eight grade. These challenging tests, which will
be available beginning in 1999, will represent widely accepted
standards of student performance. The tests will communicate clear
results to parents and teachers about every student s progress in
reading and math and, for the first time, will show how students
measure against widely accepted national and international standards
Moreover, the tests are a tool for improving the odds for students
and focusing national efforts on these key academic subjects. The
mathematics and science community, engineers and business leaders are
working to help students meet these challenging standards in math -
and the US Department of Education, the National Science Foundation,
and others are developing a tool chest for parents and teachers and
other concerned citizens on how to prepare to meet these standards,
how to use these test results to improve education, and what high
standards in reading and mathematics look like.
Top business leaders and a bipartisan group of governors agree that
these tests can help raise standards and improve American Education.
The voluntary national tests have been endorsed by the Business
Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business, and 240 top executives
of leading high-tech companies such as Apple Computer, America
OnLine, and Netscape Communications. The governors and chief state
school officers of Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North
Carolina, and West Virginia have already signed up to participate.
With this as a background, I would like to respond specifically to
the views expressed by Lynne Cheney on the voluntary national
mathematics test in the June 11 issue of The Wall Street Journal.
Ms. Cheney asserts that the efforts to raise standards by the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) - the president
and past president of which serve on the panel charged with
developing the specifications for the new mathematics test -- have
resulted in students failing to learn the basics of math. While a
colorful claim, this just isn t true. Ms. Cheney blatantly
mischaracterizes their philosophy in claiming that NCTM believes that
students needn t learn basic arithmetic.
Her views toward NCTM are an apparent change of heart. Ms. Cheney
had it right the first time, and it is sad that she is trying to
politicize this manner. Ms. Cheney was a member of the National
Council on Education Standards and Testing. In its final report to
Congress, which Ms. Cheney signed, the Council specifically cited the
work of NCTM as an example of how "standards of assessments can serve
as catalysts for raising expectations." The model national
mathematics standards, introduced by NCTM in 1989, are the basis of
many states own mathematics standards. By suggesting that NCTM
ignores the importance of basic arithmetic and computation, Ms.
Cheney does disservice to the 115,000 hardworking teachers and
curriculum specialists who are members.
The recent results of the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS) show that our nation s fourth graders are doing better
than ever mastering the basics of arithmetic. While we should always
aim higher, TIMSS shows that we can be pleased that our fourth
graders perform above the international average in mathematics.
These findings were in contrasts to the TIMSS results released last
November showing that our nation s eighth graders scored below the
international average in mathematics. This suggests that it is in
the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eight grades - when our students
should be moving beyond arithmetic to learn elements of geometry,
algebra, and measurement - that our schools need to do more to raise
expectations and achievements. This is exactly what the voluntary
national test in mathematics is intended to promote.
The voluntary national test will be demanding - far from the "fuzzy
math" that Ms. Cheney asserts. The test will be based on the
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which shows how we
are doing in the core academic subjects by regularly testing a small
sample of students. One good way to understand how badly Ms. Cheney
has mischaracterized the situation is to look at two representative
items from recent NAEP s.
The first question asks students to estimate the amount of a 15
percent tip on a restaurant check of $24.99. Students could solve
the problem in two basic ways - by rote calculation (multiplying 0.15
x 24.99) or by estimation. A common approach to estimation would be
to realize that 10% of $25 is $2.50 and that 5% (or half of 10%) of
$2.50 is $1.25. Thus, the total for a 15% tip of $24.99 is
approximately $3.75. While most adults need to do this sort of
calculation on a regular basis, and certainly whenever they dine out,
only 38% of the nation s 8th graders could choose the correct answer.
The second question asks students to analyze data presented in a
chart and text, which involves determining which data is relevant and
which data should be grouped together. To correctly answer the
question, students must calculate the amount of population growth,
they must understand the differences between an absolute population
growth and a population growth rate, and they must determine which
type of population growth if being described in each section of the
question. Finally, students are required not only to give a number
answer but to clearly communicate and defend their arguments using
both written English and mathematics. Only 35% of our 8th graders
successfully answered this question. In business and civic life,
being able to analyze this sort of data and make arguments based on
it is critical. This problem shows, as often happens in the real
world, there can be more than one way of interpreting data. To be
successful in the workplace and society, our students need to be able
to understand and solve these sorts of problems.
Governors and business leaders recognize that not enough of our
eighth graders are ready for the challenging math in high school that
is a stepping-stone to college and ultimately a variety of careers.
Support for the voluntary national test in eighth grade mathematics
is growing as a way to set clear standards for what students need to
know and be able to do in order to succeed in the next century.
Marshall S. Smith
Acting Deputy Secretary