Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Views on Math--Validated Again

Joanne (see blogroll at left) writes about math achievement, student happiness, and "relevance".


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how "student happiness" is relevant to education.

Ellen K said...

I realize that you love math as much as I do art. I would love to see everyone take art classes, just as you would love everyone to take math. But in this world, there are those who really do not have the skills to push past a certain level in math. I am one of those. I made it through geometry, but never loved math. I doubt very much I would have even graduated in today's high school climate, although I was in the top quarter in a very competitive high school. So here's my question, while I think we both agree that we should not dumb down classes for students, what is the purpose of having all students take four years of math through Calculus? In reality, wouldn't it make more sense to have a firm two year core of Algebra and Geometry, then offer upper level classes as math electives for students that are bound for colleges that require these classes? And furthermore, could you explain why my daughter, who otherwise has a 4.0 in dance and kineseology which included 15 hours of premed Anatomy and Physiology, should need to take Calculus, which is the requirement for every student in the state university she attends? What is the purpose other than to churn out stats that say "everyone took calculus?" This is especially galling when you look at the failure rate, since this class is geared for engineering majors. The liberal arts and fine arts majors often find themselves inadverdantly supporting the math school through repetitions of the same classes. All it does is tear down GPA's making it harder for liberal arts majors to compete for graduate school admissions. I hate to sound negative, but I don't understand the purpose.

Darren said...


Here in California, one need only complete 2 years of math, including Algebra 1, to graduate from high school. Our state universities require math through Algebra 2 for admission.

Having all high school students take math through calculus sounds to me like a recipe for watered-down course content or course title inflation, which I've addressed in previous posts.

As for why your daughter should have to take calculus--probably the same reason I had to take 3 semesters of English, a semester of psychology, a semester of sociology, and a semester of philosophy. Somebody thought that these things would make a math major a well-rounded graduate.

Anonymous said...

Back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, before the expectation that everybody was going to college, we had two course tracks: vocational and college. In the vocational track for math, our small rural high school (there were 79 in my graduating class) taught things like accounting, and algebra and geometry were college track (as far as I know, no high schools at the time taught calculus, just pre-calculus math).

Going back to that wouldn't work today, because students need algebra if they want to go into business. One thing I remember Clinton saying that I agreed with (hope nobody had a stroke there) was that there shouldn't be a social stigma on vocational ed. I agree. I wish we could do something about that.

I have a friend who married a Bosnian when she was overseas working for the State Dept. He's a mechanic. When she brought him for a visit to the US, he refused to believe a mechanic could make a lot of money here. I guess you can't in Europe.

The point, of course, is that we need mechanics. What's wrong with a kid wanting to be a mechanic?

Ellen K said...

I agree. We have made huge mistakes by assuming every kid belongs in college. Texas is implementing a disastrous plan known as Four by Four-which means that every single high school student must take four math and four science courses in order to graduate. That means the same kids who are struggling to pass Algebra and Geometry will end up dropping out because they will never be able to pass the next two levels. And, to make it even more ludicrous, there are no alternative math classes or science classes that qualify. I predict that drop out rates will shoot through the roof. And you want to hear whining? Wait until you see what happens to those Friday Night Heroes when they have to do the heavy lifting academically. Additionally, have you had any of the following people come to your home lately? A plumber, an electrician, a master carpenter, a bricklayer, a roofer or have you had car work done lately? Do you recall what you paid? I would much rather my kid go to trade school and be a locksmith and have his own life, than spend years taking classes he won't ever use, just for a piece ofpaper. There's honor in knowing that there's more to life than classes.