Let's Stop Requiring Advanced Math, A New Book Argues
Algebra, trigonometry and calculus keep millions of people from graduating. And they're unnecessary, argues author and professor Andrew Hacker.
I’m horrified and stunned by the idea of America no longer pursuing advanced math.
This is a tremendously dangerous idea.
Notice the writer says:
Hacker’s central argument is that advanced mathematics requirements, like algebra, trigonometry and calculus, are “a harsh and senseless hurdle” keeping far too many Americans from completing their educations and leading productive lives.
This argument has a deadly trajectory. The United States has more resources than any country in history. Why is it that this is only a problem in America? Why do countries like China, Finland and Singapore perform much better than America in mathematics?
I’m not anti-math. It’s a grand human achievement up there with chess and crossword puzzles.
To even imply that mathematics is merely on par with chess and crossword puzzles blows my mind. Again. A seriously dangerous thing to say.
Mathematics is the reason for any of us writing, reading and reacting to anything said on this platform right now. It’s how we have cell phones, wireless technology, computers, robotics, etc. etc.
Mathematics brings such an accurate level of predictability to reality that we can create what’s known as technology: the thing 21st century human civilization is built upon.
Your words imply that a few should be privy to the understanding of how our civilization functions.
I say “your words” because I don’t think you actually mean this:
What I would like is for math teachers, starting in high school, to make the subject so fascinating that kids will want to take it.
I believe this truly is the crux of your message.
Mathematics is essential to society and is becoming more so with time. Yes, this includes geometry and trigonometry etc. We don’t all need to be “good” at it or even love it. That’s irrelevant.
Why? Because whether we like it or not mathematics works. It is what makes all the science and engineering function which in turn makes our whole civilization so distinct from that of previous generations.
The impact of such a technically, globally connected world resonate far into cultural and social spectrums. In a democratic society, we become an uninformed electorate the more our democracy functions on the mechanics of mathematics.
You cannot forever separate an informed, democratic opinion from a mathematically educated mind in a world where democratic opinions are made regarding mathematic methodologies.
I think the idea of making the “subject so fascinating that kids will want to take it” is an admirable one and far more likely to redirect us on a fruitful path than to even bother tearing down somehow the towering achievement of mathematics.
We can argue about ridding ourselves of standardized testing (huzzah!), of working on bettering our public education system (huzzah!) and even of teaching mathematics in a more applied way (HUZZAH!), but I will fight tooth and nail against the blaming of any social failings on any one thing.
We cannot afford to simplify such a huge problem. We need a distinction between blaming and offering solutions.
This article tears down and builds nothing up.
To even begin on the road to solutions I suggest the book Love and Math. I also suggest we teach to the wonders of the universe and of the human mind, including art, technology as well as spending our time figuring out how to intrigue our students, instead of explicitly preparing to and then testing them.
Setting students up to be tested does a great disservice to the human mind. A properly interested person will pursue whatever it is that interests them. This is the key. We need to awaken love and passion for knowledge in our students and not seek to test them.
If we can awaken a curiosity in our student populace than teachers would merely need to be receptive to this curiosity and provide the resources for students to advance their own knowledge.
Now - I don’t mean abolish testing. Obviously it has a place. It cannot, however become singular to the system. We must expand our system in such a way as to acknowledge the diversity and depth of the human mind rather than trying to simplify it to a reductionist method of Darwinian filtration.
We cannot force a person to learn. We can only help them learn. This is essential to understand, especially as an educational policymaker.
I also don’t think it would hurt to start paying our public teachers wages they deserve too (but this is a small aside).