Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who needs higher math?

In my previous post, I quoted Ron Wolk, the founder and former editor of Education Week.
Wolk states:

The main reasons students are not learning algebra and geometry is that they don’t really want to. They think higher-order math is irrelevant to their real lives. They can’t imagine that they will ever use algebra and geometry. And they are mostly right.

I am willing to bet that the majority of [students] who graduated from high school have made little, if any, use of algebra or geometry. Most, like me, probably forgot most of what they “learned” before the ink was dry on their diplomas. I squeaked through algebra, plain and solid geometry, and trigonometry, but a year later I couldn’t explain the difference between a cosine and a stop sign. And I can’t think of an instance over the past half-century when I needed algebra or geometry.

A prominent Rhode Island businessman once said to me: “I have been a successful businessman for 40 years; I founded and ran a Fortune 500 company, and all the math I ever used were addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and figuring percentages in my head.” What are the odds that he would pass the New England Common Assessment?

But if we think we will get more kids to become scientists and engineers by force-feeding them algebra in the 8th grade and higher-order math through high school, we are deluding ourselves.

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