Mathematics education in the period 1980-1990 has made a spectacular revolution. The distribution of mechanistic and realistic textbooks was different. Mechanistic textbooks got down from 95% to 25%, and realistic textbooks went from 5% to a market share of no less than 75%. To be able to make a proper assessment of this change it is of course essential to know the general difference between mechanistic and realistic.
Freudenthal is the founder of realistic mathematics education. He was the one to put Wiskobas on the right track; away from formalistic New Math, directed at reality. His didactical realism is coloured by idealism. His ideas emphasize rich thematic contexts, integration of mathematics with other subjects and areas of reality, differentiation within individual learning processes and the importance of working together in heterogeneous groups.
In the eigthties it was notably also by the OW & OC that emphasis shifted to the importance of elementary context problems, to the alignment of learning strands and the steering task of teachers – issues for which Freudenthal had less of an eye.
This shift in emphasis in the didactical realism of the post IOWO period (from idealistic to realistic realism) is among other expressed in the attention given to basic skills (arithmetic rack, empty number line, mental arithmetic and estimation).
Freudenthal was very much aware of this change of course around 1989-1990. Also in the last long discussion that I had with him on Monday, 8 October 1990, he again raised with me this variation in the nature and richness of context problems, and the degree of steering and alignment.
According to him this diversity made it possible to link up realism with the different concepts about instruction and the various styles of teaching. A year prior to this, in an emotional discussion, he even expressed his doubts about whether his influence had not been too idealistically tinted and had not asked too much of educators; ‘a person has his doubts’ he said then.
What ever the case, from the shift in emphasis one can get an idea of the direction of developmental research that the OW & OC followed and that the Freudenthal Institute will pursue, at least as far as mathematics instruction for primary school is concerned. With the added remark that this will be in co-operation with other agencies – national and international. Or in other words: together within the mentioned informal provider structures of the subject area for mathematics under the umbrella of the Dutch NCTM so to speak.
And if this co-operation and infrastructure did not exist, for secondary education as well I should add, then the name Freudenthal Institute would not have been chosen. Because isolated research, not related to development, training, assessment, could never be allowed to be associated with Freudenthal because he considered that to be fruitless. The official name of the research group of the Freudenthal Institute is: Developmental research for Mathematics and Informatics Education, with the Dutch acronym OWIO. That abbreviation rings a bell, somehow.