Reply to anti-lecture argument by Bressoud

Former president of the MAA David Bressoud recently posted yet another anti-lecture post in his mathematics education blog. His conclusion is poorly supported by the data cited, and biased by his preconceived agenda (a very typical state of affairs in mathematics education). I tried to post a comment at his blog, but it seems to have been caught by a spam filter. Here is my reply:

“Lecture” is not the problem here. The problem is that these students are not at a level where they can appreciate the mathematical points being made. This problem goes a lot deeper than whether one used this or that form of presentation.

Suppose I give a real analysis book “widely recognized as excellent” to a bunch of middle school kids, ask them to read it, and then interview them about their knowledge. Of course they will display very poor knowledge of real analysis. Should I conclude from this that “books are ineffective” as a means of learning? According to Bressoud’s logic I should.

As the authors of the study note, the study shows that students often focus on algebraic manipulations and “formulas” as opposed to more conceptual and methodological points. The causes for this are easy to understand and have nothing to do with whether the course was taught by lecture or not.