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Pursuing Excellence in Mathematics Education

Edward Silver and Christine Keitel-Kreidt, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Mathematics Education Library
[Reviewed by
Frank Swetz
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When I first agreed to review this book, I had read the title from a list that included only the first part and believed that the subject matter was mathematics education. However, as the full title indicates, it is primarily a Festschrift, a collection of essays, in honor of Jeremy Kilpatrick for his many years of service to the field of mathematics education.

To follow Kilpatrick’s warning: mathematics education is neither a discipline nor a profession. Perhaps, it can best be described as the set of activities that focus on the learning and teaching of mathematics and, in particular, the recognition and alleviation of the problems that arise in the carrying out of these processes. Those involved in this endeavor, mathematics educators, vary from classroom teachers, to researchers and textbook authors, to teacher trainers and finally, to academic policy makers who influence the directions in the quest for improvements. Jeremy Kilpatrick functions at the upper end of this spectrum and has been recognized nationally, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2003 and, internationally, as recipient of the 2007 Felix Klein Medal, awarded by the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction. This book has been compiled and published to further this list of honors.

The editors and contributors of Pursuing Excellence are former students and/or collaborators of Jeremy Kilpatrick who, personally, includes a “Bio Sketch” and “Summary of Professional Background and Accomplishments”. The book is divided into three parts: “Jeremy Kilpatrick: Colleague and Collaborator”; “Mathematical Problem Solving and Curriculum” and “The Interaction of Theory, Practice and Politics in Mathematics Education”.

The three contributions that comprise Part I express their general admiration for Kilpatrick; the essay by Patricio Herbst delineates the qualities exhibited by a good dissertation advisor , in particular his: Jeremy Kilpatrick.

The four essays of Part II contribute little to the better understanding of the topics indicated in their section. The remaining four essays of Part III reflect some current but important concerns of mathematics educators. Alan Bishop promotes the need to “democratize mathematics education” but does not advise as to how this can be accomplished in light of existing obstacles: economic and political. A rather “term and reference dense” contribution by Perla Nesher convinced me that I am a “social constructivist” concerned with the hows and whys of mathematics education; being so even before the phrase was devised.

Pursuing Excellence in Mathematics Education is a tribute to the career and work of Jeremy Kilpatrick, but the book itself does not live up to the promise of its title. In the main, its contributions provide few insights into the issues and solutions that concern mathematics teaching and learning; nor do they raise the needed, relevant, thought provoking questions whose answers should be pursued. Further, the price of this book is prohibitive, limiting its distribution. I believe a more noteworthy and useful tribute to Jeremy Kilpatrick would have been the publication of a collection of his opinions and writings with reaction responses from members of the mathematics education community at large, including at least one classroom teacher. It would have been much more meaningful to have learned how Kilpatrick’s contributions have effected/affected the daily tasks of classroom mathematics teaching. The pursuit for excellence in mathematics education continues.

Frank Swetz, Professor of Mathematics and Education, Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State University, is the author of several books on the history of mathematics. His most recent book is Mathematical Expeditions: Exploring Word Problems Across the Ages.



I. Jeremy Kilpatrick: Colleague, Mentor & Collaborator

What’s Involved in the Work of Dissertation Advising? An Interview with Jeremy Kilpatrick and Some Personal Reflections
Collaboration and Friendship with Jeremy Kilpatrick: Two Sides of Success and Challenge

II. Mathematical Problem Solving and Mathematics Curriculum

When is a Problem? Contribution in Honour of Jeremy Kilpatrick
Problem solving, exercises and explorations in mathematics textbooks: A historical perspective
From mathematical problem solving to geocaching: A journey inspired by my encounter with Jeremy Kilpatrick
Ruminations on the Generated Curriculum and Reform in Community College Mathematics: An Essay in Honor of Jeremy Kilpatrick​

III. The Interaction of Theory, Practice and Politics in Mathematics Education​

Mathematics, Knowledge and Political Power
Democratising Mathematics Education and the Role of Research
On the Diversity and Multiplicity of Theories in Mathematics Education
Toward A Profession of Mathematics Education: Guidance from Jeremy Kilpatrick‘s Words and Deeds​.