John Bennett: Why Math Instruction is Unnecessary

Should math be taught differently?
What causes “math anxiety”?
How would you change the teaching of math?

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  • Mitch Williams
    October 31, 2011, 2:24 pm  Reply

    I teach AP Computer Science at Mira Costa H.S. I also teach 3D Graphics Engineering at various colleges including the University of California.
    I agree with your premise that we are not teaching enough deductive logic-thinking. I see Algebra 3/4-Trig students struggle with the smallest of 3 numbers – a, b and c – and you can compare only 2 at a time. The answer would be compare a to b, and then compare the smallest of those two with c to determine the answer.
    However, I wouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I also teach Video Game Design and Development, which demonstrates how math is used in 3d graphics for rotations of objects, calculation of lighting and camera movement. It’s a great practical class demonstrating how graphics can help help math. And we can validate the calculations against what we see on the screen. This is also a great demonstration of applying video game and animated film art and technology to math.

  • November 1, 2011, 2:49 pm  Reply


    Thanks for your comment. The short answer is that I agree with you and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my position. I believe that math is a wonderful subject with many different areas of beauty and usefulness, including what you mentioned in your comment. When you said “throw the baby out with bath water,” I wonder if you think that my position is that math shouldn’t be taught at all. That’s not the case. As I said at the event, I do believe that math (after elementary school) should not be a required subject. I believe that math should still be available for those who feel drawn to it, and as for the rest of us, I believe that we can solve logic puzzles and play abstract strategy games to increase deductive and inductive reasoning skills.

  • Mitch Williams
    November 10, 2011, 12:59 pm  Reply

    Greetings John,

    Thanks for the response. You have my full support on any methods to increase logic thinking. And I think we are pretty much on the save wavelength.

    My ‘bathwater’ comment was in reference to the idea that we’ve never had such an opportunity before where teenagers are engaged, such as video games and animated films, that are so dependent on K-12 math, and that we can now connect them to the math behind the video games. And some students will have a renewed interest, and others not.

    It reminds me of my foreign language skills, which were really poor, until I started traveling as an adult, and suddenly, I was engaged and took a total turn-around.

    If your generating positive results, and it sounds like you are, then that’s a great thing because we really need this now.


  • David Hong
    May 11, 2012, 2:17 pm  Reply

    John, I just saw your video on youtube, and I thought the talk was extremely well done. I really agree with aspects of your position. I teach “developmental math” at a community college. My students have the most difficulty with basic reasoning skills, and many times, that deficiency is a product of their environment. Students that have the ability to reason and think do well in my classes, and students who don’t, don’t.

    It seems to me that some type of class that improves thinking needs to be taught. Starting with puzzles, then logic in conjunction with mathematics, but maybe geometry instead of algebra. On example of a great way to teach reasoning: Thomas Aquinas College. Are you familiar with their program?

    In a way, puzzles are less “useful” than higher mathematics, but they hone the mind. The fixation of the education system on achieving measurable results have prevented us from honing students minds! Teaching them: logical thinking, problem solving, mathematical sense, and communication.

  • May 11, 2012, 10:46 pm  Reply


    Thanks for your comment. No, I’m not familiar with the program at Thomas Aquinas College. I’ll look into it. Your point about the current “fixation of the education system on achieving measurable results” resonates with my thinking. How challenging it is to let go of this idea and have faith that students can and do progress in ways that can’t be so easily measured.

  • Carlos Rozas
    May 20, 2012, 9:09 pm  Reply

    Hi John,

    I listened to your talk and you are a very good speaker. I have some issues with your characterization of math needs in our country. STEM jobs by themselves account for 7.6 million jobs. If you include other professions like finance and accounting, architects, pharmacists, and nursing, the numbers just get higher.

    However, if we look past the numbers, do we really want a country whose math fluency is that of 10 year old?

    We need to keep our kids from developing math anxiety and to avoid closing doors on their futures.

    That said, can we reform high school language arts? 🙂


  • Marianna
    June 25, 2013, 11:08 am  Reply

    Hello John,

    I just now came across your TED talk on youtube…. What a relief! I just want to thank you for your courage and your passion and for speaking out on this controversial topic.
    I am a young math teacher myself, have been reaching the same conclusions in my head and started to worry about my sanity. So good to hear similar ideas from a colleague!

    Do you have a blog or another resource where you share your game ideas and other experiences? I guess I can google that…

    Thank you for your work and your commitment to the higher good of all involved.

    with gratitude,

  • Lyndell
    July 10, 2013, 11:41 pm  Reply

    Hi John,

    I think your presentation about high school math was great. I have some questions for you and I would greatly appreciate some guidance.

    We are a home schooling family and my two older children are now in their 8th and 9th year. We have followed along with math curriculum programs, completing each one within the year time frame, so we are supposedly “on track”.

    Rather than continuing down the system’s proposed path of curriculum I would like to do two things. One is to sharpen my children’s skills in the math that we need in everyday life. Sadly, I see my children lacking these skills even though they have covered them and beyond. Do you have any suggestions for how I can tackle this? Do I just need to be more alert to opportunities for practice as they come up?

    The other thing I’m not sure about is what they should do for the next few years if they are no longer following the prescribed math curriculum. You mentioned logic puzzles in your presentation. Can you recommend any? Also, what do you think about books that develop critical thinking skills etc?

    Finally, do you recommend any particular math program for primary aged children in a home school setting? Primary aged is 5-12 years old.

    Many thanks,

  • Brock
    September 3, 2013, 7:40 pm  Reply


    I don’t know if you are still replying to this conversation, but I would like to ask you something.

    I am a first year teacher and watched your video a few weeks ago. I like how realistic you are, and I’m interested in what games you use or have used. One of the classes I teach is consumer math, and I would like to incorporate mind puzzles into their lessons. These are kids that will probably go to a vo-tech, and I think they would benefit from exercises like these.

    Mr. Baxter

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