August 20, 2013


Should Math Really Be A Required Subject? : The novelist Nicholson Baker makes a case against algebra (Shaunacy Ferro, 08.19.2013, Popular Science)

Some math teachers are even against higher math for the masses. "The vast majority of the human race, and the vast majority of the college-educated human race never need any mathematics beyond arithmetic to survive successfully,"
Baker quotes number theorist Underwood Dudley as writing in a 1987 issue of The American Mathematical Monthly.

Cornell University mathematician Steven Strogatz told Baker it alarmed him to see a large portion of students not just not learning in math classes, but actively suffering.

We need less math for the average kid, Strogatz said, but more meaningful math. 'We spend a lot of time avalanching students with the answers to things that they wouldn't think of asking.'

Baker's solution to the problem is this:

We should, I think, create a new, one-year teaser course for ninth graders, which would briefly cover a few techniques of algebraic manipulation, some mind stretching geometric proofs, some nifty things about parabolas and conic sections, and even perhaps a soft-core hint of the infinitesimal, change-explaining powers of calculus...Take students to see the mathematical sequoia, tell them how great it is, but don't force them to climb it until their arms go numb and they fall.

If math were an elective, "American science and technology would be unharmed, and a lot of poisonous math hatred would go away instantly. Kids don't hate smelting, or farming, or knitting, or highway design, or portrait painting, or neurology, or juggling rubber balls, or sonnet-writing, because they don't have to take three years of instruction in any of these arts," he writes

Posted by at August 20, 2013 1:38 PM

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