Do we really need to teach all this math stuff?

Steve Simon


I got tagged in a Facebook post about an article criticizing the emphasis on math in high school and that proposes replacing some of the more theory based courses like Algebra II and Calculus with “a practical course in statistics for citizenship”. It’s an interesting article, and although it had some points, I had to disagree with the overall premise. Here’s what I said.

There’s the famous quote in “Peggy Sue Got Married” where she goes back in time to high school and then (among other things) tells off her algebra teacher saying that she knows with 100% certainty that she will never use Algebra again for the rest of her life. That being said, I have no problems if someone wants to substitute a “practical uses of math in the real world” for Calculus and/or Statistics. And those of us who teach this stuff are sometimes too much in love with the formulas. But if anything, math (and especially statistics) is becoming more and more important to more and more jobs. So we need to teach the Pythagorean Theorem and how to calculate the trajectory of a rocket fired at an angle. We have to do it in a way that makes it seem both interesting and important, but we certainly have to do it.

You can find an earlier version of this page on my blog.