Sunday, February 26, 2006

I'm pretty sympathetic to this column which has been criticized by an astoundingly large number of people over the last few days:

You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know -- never mind want to know -- how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later -- or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.
Of course, I could ask what exactly is the point of knowing something about your world (as opposed to about mathematics). Its highly unlikely that you will need to know Shakespeare or be familiar with world geography in the course of your life.

Still, it seems to me that this guy has a point. If you remember back to your high school days, its likely you'll recall that teachers tried to motivate you by telling you that the stuff you are learning is useful. All the people I've read criticizing this guy tend to emphasize his intellectual uncuriousity. But if you are going to justify teaching math on the grounds of intellectual curiousity, why not be honest about and tell the students? Tell them that they are learning things they are unlikely ever to use, but that they should be interested in because they ought to be intellectually curious people?

I suspect the reaction you'll receive is complete indifference towards the subject matter - even more than now.

And the fact is, most people forget the math they learned in high school very soon after they finish; and most people perform jobs that make knowledge beyond a certain level unnecessary. That level is right about the first quarter of a high school algebra I class.

And the fact is, most students realize that the stuff they are learning is unlikely to be useful. And theres nothing more annoying that teaching a class of people who don't want to learn. Why inflict this pain and suffering on them? It could be argued that knowledge of history, for example, is essential for these people to make political decisions in a democratic society, but the same could hardly be said about math.

On a related subject: if you get this, its pretty funny.

1 Comments:

At 4:36 AM, Blogger angela said...

math is important for people in the political sphere who do not have trusted geek confidants. how else are we going to find out if the stats the state-sponsored geeks are supplying are totally bunk?

oh noes, the fact this relationship is just a vehicle for my eventual global dominance (ill settle for eminence) has been exposed.

 

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