Thursday, October 28, 2010

How much math . . .

I found this Washington Post article on dangerously ! irrelevant interesting and thought provoking as we implement a new secondary math curriculum and new math graduation requirements.  After sharing his insights into how A Nation At Risk provided colleges with an opportunity to create and sell mathematics education programs he asks the question many of us wonder about.

  • How much math do you really need in everyday life?
The author suggests no more than can be learned in the early years of math study.  As I reflect on my work and my everyday life, that would be true for me.  I rarely have the need to use math algorithms at work or in my daily life.  When I do, I find that I use a calculator to perform them.  On the other hand, I wonder how the logic and patterns of upper math study may have influenced my thinking, how I process information, and how I approach problem solving tasks, all of which I encounter daily. 

In the article, the author argues that we have been sold on the need for math to lead a successful life.

A lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential to everybody's daily life. There are even calculus textbooks showing how to calculate -- I am not making this up and in fact I taught from such a book -- the rate at which the fluid level in a martini glass will go down, assuming, of course, that one sips differentiably. Elementary math books have to be stuffed with such contrived applications; otherwise they won't be published.

What do you think about how much math is necessary for success in everyday life?  Should all students be required to meet standard in algebra and geometry to graduate from a Washington high school?

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