Sunday, May 6, 2012

Is Higher Math Necessary?

This was shared with an email group I am part of.  I watched it and was flabbergasted.  The number of things that I found wrong with this was overwhelming and hard to find words for.  Beckie, a math teacher on the group, did find the words I was searching for.  I asked her if she would mind if I shared her response, because I found it so fitting.
From Beckie: 
"Why is it that no one thinks twice about recommending math illiteracy but shudders at the thought of children who can't appreciate and comprehend good literature? Because that's what this recommendation is equivalent to...if we taught our kids just enough reading to get by in everyday life, we'd only teach them enough to read and understand street signs, basic contracts and news articles. Would you cut off your child's future by limiting his exposure to great literature? No? Then why would you even consider cutting off his exposure to great math? Why would you cut his choices of occupation in half simply by shutting down his math instruction once he's mastered the BASIC skills? Basic doesn't mean sufficient. It means it is the bare minimum you need to survive. And I'm pretty sure I want my children to do more than just survive.

We make choices for our children all the time. Even as they grow older, we still make choices for them that their not-fully-developed brains (yes, even in the teenage years) would never make on their own. That's why we impose curfews and junk-food limits. That's why we make them study literature and art and history. And that's why we make them study math and science. Even if they're not fond of it, and even if they struggle, we make them keep trying. Because we want them to learn that some things are worth struggling for. And because you never do know what your children will finally decide to do with their lives. You can't expect a 13 or 14 year old to know whether their future career will require more math than just the basic skills. You never know if, after 10 years of working at a job they come to dislike, they will decide on a new path that requires knowledge of more math than just the basics.

I'm a math teacher and I understand where this teacher is coming from. I used to dread the "When will I ever need this" question myself until I realized that students ask it because they know teacher's won't answer it honestly. I have always answered, "You may never need it, but what you're learning is a different way to look at the world. You're learning a method of reasoning and logical thinking. You're learning to look at the world quantitatively, in numbers, and use those numbers to help you make decisions. You might never need to graph another quadratic equation in your life, but maybe when you throw a ball in the air, you'll think about how gravity pulls it to the ground and how it's height changes over time, and what the maximum height might be depending on how hard you've thrown the ball. When you hear about large companies making decisions about how much of a product to make, maybe you'll think about linear programming concepts and the graphs of inequalities we used to represent that decision making process. And when you think about how temperatures vary throughout the year, maybe you'll think about those sine and cosine curves you graphed in trig class."

"Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." Attributed to Plato, the great philosopher."

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Anonymous said...

I also think that in addition to learning a method of reasoning and logical thinking, higher Math is necessary to be able to pursue greater levels in one's career or life. After all, we all need to know more than the basics to understand the economy and make good voting choices as well as understand the finances of our mortgages and the rash of foreclosures for example.

And not to forget the fact that by exploring higher Math, one may uncover hidden talents and/or interests that could lead them to do something that might just make a huge impact in this world.

I believe that learning never ends and we should all be reaching higher every day. In Math and in anything/everything... You just never know where it will take you.

Jessica said...

Excellent points, Lisa, especially about understanding the economy! I just don't buy the whole "you don't ever use it" as a good reason to not learn or at least expose yourself to higher math or any other subject! I have never, ever had a single instance where I *needed* to know what year Columbus landed on our shores, when the Declaration of Independence was written and signed, or the elements on the periodic table . But, I know all that and I will teach my children!