The accepted wisdom these days seems to be that our kids need more math in order to be “competitive.” The requirements at my teenagers’ school just changed from three years of math to four–regardless of what level a student has reached upon matriculation. For my second son, our math whiz, who completed Algebra I and Geometry in grade school, this means he will have to take Calculus I and II, or Calculus I and Statistics, in order to graduate, regardless of whether his future career plans require advanced mathematics.
My oldest child, now in college, who has a learning disability in math, struggled mightily through her required courses, and still faces a college algebra course next year. As far as I can see, there is no point to any of this, since she is majoring in Writing and minoring in Theology and has no future career plans involving math in any capacity.
One of my kids once asked me, “Why do we have to take so much math? What use will it ever be to me?” I told her that it helps you get a good score on the SAT and you need to know how to do it so you can help your kids with their homework. I was good at math, was a member of Mu Alpha Theta, got a high SAT score, participated in Math Bowls in high school. I’m not a math hater and I’m not math phobic. But I truly don’t understand what advantage is gained through making uninterested kids take higher math that they will never use again.
At the same time we are forcing kids to take more and more upper level math classes, we seem to be ignoring the basics. Kids rely on calculators to do things that we were taught to do on paper. If I were in charge of the schools (that sentence again!) I would make sure kids understood arithmetic. That’s what they will use in later life. A little basic geometry, enough algebra to understand the concept of finding an unknown–that’s it. Those who showed special capacity for math, like my son, would be encouraged to go further. Those who realize in college that they wanted to major in something requiring Calculus could pick it up then. Most people are just not going to need that, and we aren’t going to turn kids into mathematicians by forcing them to take a lot of math in high school!
In fact, this article makes the case that we are turning kids off math by teaching too much or it and teaching it wrong, starting in the early grades. Click the link and read the story–it’s fascinating and made me feel a lot better about my failure to interest my youngest, homeschooled son in math!
I know, I know, everyone says math is so important for learning logic and critical thinking skills. So why not just teach logic and critical thinking skills? What do you think? Is it a good idea to force all kids to take four years of math, or should they be doing something else instead?