Does everyone need to learn advanced-level math beyond basic algebra and arithmetic?

Reply Fri 26 Jun, 2015 10:16 am
In other words, should someone whose profession is not necessarily mathematical learn advanced-math? The main reason why asked this is because I read an article written by G.V. Ramanathan, a mathematician, criticizing the current math education. According to him:

Twenty-seven years have passed since the publication of the report "A Nation at Risk," which warned of dire consequences if we did not reform our educational system. This report, not unlike the Sputnik scare of the 1950s, offered tremendous opportunities to universities and colleges to create and sell mathematics education programs.
Unfortunately, the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body.

There are three steps to this kind of aggressive marketing. The first is to convince people that white teeth, a full head of hair and a sculpted physique are essential to a good life. The second is to embarrass those who do not possess them. The third is to make people think that, since a good life is their right, they must buy these products.

You can see attempts at embarrassing the public in popular books written by mathematicians bemoaning the innumeracy of common folk and how it is supposed to be costing billions; books about how mathematicians have a more clever way of reading the newspaper than the masses; and studies purportedly showing how much dumber our kids are than those in Europe and Asia.

We need to ask two questions. First, how effective are these educational creams and gels? With generous government grants over the past 25 years, countless courses and conferences have been invented and books written on how to teach teachers to teach. But where is the evidence that these efforts have helped students? A 2008 review by the Education Department found that the nation is at "greater risk now" than it was in 1983, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores for 17-year-olds have remained stagnant since the 1980s.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.
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Reply Fri 26 Jun, 2015 10:48 am
I think it depends.
This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.
- Horace Walpole -
Math and science encourage critical thinking. The arts round one's personality.
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Reply Sat 18 Jul, 2015 03:58 pm
The schools are supposed to give kids an education, not merely vocational training.
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Reply Sat 18 Jul, 2015 05:03 pm
Advanced mathematics is not useful to the vast majority of people. Teaching or learning this material is a waste of time to people who don't have a natural ability or affinity to the subject. A knowledge of advanced mathematics doesn't improve critical thinking (it does improve abstract thinking, but abstract thinking isn't needed by most people).

I taught Physics in high school, and I saw first hand what happens.

There are a small number of students who are drawn to mathematics. They love the problems and the ideas and abstract challenges. These kids get the mathematics no matter who the teachers are... they run ahead. These are the people who will fill the 5% of jobs that require this type of mind.

For the rest of the students math is a mechanical process. They put the numbers in and turn the crank and get an answer. You can't force them to love the ideas, you can't force them to wrestle with the abstract thoughts. We push them through things like factoring polynomials and solving linear equations... but they get no benefit out of this. Their time would be better spent learning something that they care about.

Math should be taught to the people who will naturally benefit from it. It is a waste of time for the vast majority of students.
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Reply Sat 18 Jul, 2015 05:19 pm
I believe that everyone should learn probability and statistics. These have practical use in daily life.

Topics like factoring polynomials and systems of equations are a waste of time for most people... and they are worse than nothing. Rather than students learning to understand the abstract concepts behind these topics, we are teaching kids that math is a set of processes to follow to get any answer. This gives students a completely wrong impression of what math really is.
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