Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What use is math?

Its always interesting to see the response when someone poses a question challenging an axiomatic construct. What is the purpose of mathematics as a high school subject? Brian Micklethwait asks this most basic of questions.

It is interesting to see the knee-jerk response of all those whose careers depend upon higher-level mathematics rather than the basic arithmetic taught at an elementary level.

But what of the vast majority for whom their mathematics instruction is both a torture and a general waste of energy? For example, my daughters both faced enormous encouragement (pressure?) from both teachers and peers to take calculus. But who needs calculus? Who uses it? Hand up everyone who has calculated the area under the curve in the past year.

Clearly, certain professions and certain skills might require calculus and/or algebra and/or vectors or whatever else comprises the high school math curricula in your jurisdiction. But isn't what most people need today some basic accounting and financial literacy, which most schools don't teach (and which many teachers could also use!) and the basics of data management, enough to assess statistics, lies and damned lies? No one is suggesting math be eliminated from the curriculum, but perhaps its primacy as a (perceived) required subject might be revisited and revised.

Micklethwait has started a new blog focusing on education and here's hoping he keeps posting some of the same basic questions such as this one on the value of math, the merits of home schooling and why so many academics are biased toward the political left.