Tag Archives: eric walstein

Two wise men I know

Allen Kornblum, founder and publisher of Coffee House Press, interviewed on the future of the book industry. Eric Walstein, mentor to a generation of little kids in Maryland who liked math, tells the Washington Post we’re using calculators wrong.

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Fund the Montgomery County math team

Montgomery County is no longer going to fund the county’s participation in ARML, the American Regions Mathematics League. (Funny name, right? In my day, young whippersnappers, it was the “Atlantic Region Mathematics League,” and stopped at Chicago. By the time the rest of the country got in on the competition, the acronym was too well-branded to change. Nowadays, teams from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Phillipines, and Colombia compete. “All-Encompassing Regional Mathematics League?”)

Montgomery County has been sending a team to ARML since the very first meet in 1976. These days, they send four full teams of 15 students each, plus a separate team of middle-schoolers. So all kinds of kids come, not just the child prodigies and the math obsessives — which is a terrific feature of the “mathletic” culture that our coach, Eric Walstein, has built up over the last thirty years. It would be a shame to see the county ARML team disappear, or radically contract to the 15 superstars only.

I don’t understand the intricacies of school funding well enough to complain knowledgably about Montgomery County’s decision (but feel free to do so in comments!) I think the idea is that MCPS expects the math team to have alumni and friends who can afford to help out with a little money. If you’re one of them, you can send a check made out to “Blair Math Team” to

Eric Walstein
Montgomery Blair High School
51 University Blvd – east
Silver Spring, MD 20901

Please do not write “TNYWR” for the amount.

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“His parents think he’s fine. The school system thinks he’s fine. But he’s not fine!”

No sooner do I mention Eric Walstein than Emily Messner’s long profile of him appears in the Washington Post. You get a vivid sense of this devoted and — um, what’s the opposite of soft-spoken? — educator, who’s been wrestling Montgomery kids through math since — well, I don’t know how long, but he was already an old hand when I met him. I was seven. He ran me through some arithmetic problems and bawled me out when I gave him an answer of “Two hundred and six.”

“There is NO SUCH NUMBER AS TWO HUNDRED AND SIX!” he told me. He wrote “206” on the board. “This number is called TWO HUNDRED SIX.”

OK, in restrospect, I don’t really understand why he needed to insist on this point. But I was tremendously impressed. I’d never met somebody who would have cared in the slightest how properly to pronounce “206.” Let alone somebody who would yell at a seven-year-old kid about it.

The article isn’t just about Walstein, but about the raging battle over how math is to be taught in Montgomery County, one of the fanciest public school systems in the country. Messner is to be commended for going a little deeper than “Are calculators good or bad? Are standardized tests good or bad? Are math education Ph.D.’s good or bad?” which is all one usually gets on this issue.

Also: more memories of Ted Widerski in the comments on Madison’s School Information System blog.

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