Yesterday, I read an article from NPR titled, “Let’s Stop Requiring Advanced Math, A New Book Argues.” I was aggravated when I read the article because I disagreed with the ideas mentioned from the book, “The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions” by Andrew Hacker, a political science professor.
“Hacker’s central argument is that advanced mathematics requirements, like algebra, trigonometry and calculus, are “a harsh and senseless hurdle” keeping far too many Americans from completing their educations and leading productive lives.I don’t think the author is calling to “dumb it down.” He’s calling to make the interpretation of numbers and math easier for everyone, which in the long run, will make all of us smarter.” NPR
My Relationship History with Math
As a college and university student I struggled with math. Math courses were the most challenging. I would spend 2-3 hours sitting in Starbucks doing practice problems to prepare for tests and exams. I failed the math portion of a standardized test in college. I took Saturday classes that were three hours long so I could retake the test and pass, which I did. This does not mean I hate math. I am proud to say that statistics, algebra, and geometry made me stronger and increased my critical thinking skills.
Unfortunately, it appears that math is more feared or revered than understood. I used to have the mindset that I just wasn’t a “math person,” or “I can’t do math.” Today, I have a different attitude and encourage my students not to have the negative mindset I once had with any subject. I believe we can learn anything. Math may take more practice and effort for some than others. Similarly, writing an essay may come more naturally to some people than others. We are all very different and learn differently. We have different strengths and weaknesses. Just because we are weak in a subject does not mean we give up and think we can’t do it.
Should Students be Required to Take Advanced Math Courses?
I think so. I disagree with Hacker. He argues that a large percentage of people drop out of high school and college. However, people drop out for so many other reasons as well. It seems like he is arguing that universities should cater more to the average rather than pursuing excellence. What argument do we have then when someone asks why the average person should learn Shakespeare or history or even political science?
When I was in 8th grade I was required to read “The Giver.” I still have my copy from 8th grade as this book was incredibly inspiring to me and is one of my favorite books of all time. I read the book, completed the required assignment, and never needed to use it again. Was this a waste of my time?
“When you were a toddler, developing hand-eye coordination and a basic understanding of balance you probably played with blocks and built towers? When was the last time you stacked up a bunch of blocks? Probably years ago. When do you expect to do it again? Probably never. Does that mean the time you spent learning to do it was wasted? Not at all. You kept the basic skills–which had nothing at all to do with blocks, per se–and left the toys behind.” – Dr. Math
It’s not about the type of math class. I believe it is more about the teacher and how the content is presented. Perhaps we need to look at the curriculum and how it is taught rather than not teaching it at all. If I have an interest in biology, but have a teacher who is not engaging then, chances are my interest in biology will decline. The same goes for any type of math or any subject. Personally, I had no interest in history until I got to college and had a professor who taught the subject in a way that provoked my interest. I see this in students all the time. They are not interested in the subject because of how it is taught or the non-engaging assignments they have to do.