Math: How Much Is Too Much?

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?


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  1. Julie says:

    I’m not fond of the push for more math either. My oldest is in the grade level math class at school, but grade level is working a year ahead (6th grade child, 7th grade math). The stated goal is to have all the kids graduate having completed Algrebra 1. Why? So he can skip it in high school, only to have to add Calculus II or Statistics as a Senior? And if he’s going to repeat Algebra I in high school (which is what Joel and I are probably going to advise), why the push to complete it by the end of 8th grade. I think much of this is driven by a desire to increased standardized test scores – something I’m not a fan of (either the tests or the scores). But that could be a post all on its own.

    • lesliesholly says:

      It’s stupid. I even had a high school math teacher agree with me that it’s stupid. If the high school requirement were that everyone would reach a certain level, that would be better, although I don’t see how we are going to create mathematicians and math lovers by making everyone take calculus. I mean, seriously.

  1. August 16, 2013

    […] I hate homework, and y’all know that already.  And I’ve seen plenty of educational fads come and go (that’s another post I need to write).  I know why they want kids to do math in the summer.  It’s the same reason some push for year round school:  to keep kids from forgetting what they’ve learned.  But we all managed pretty well, didn’t we, even with the slightly longer summer breaks of yesteryear?  And if they think they are going to encourage a love of math by doing this, no. […]

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