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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

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Too Much Math?

Posted: 10/27/10 01:16 AM ET

How much math do we really need in everyday life? Most people get by happily with very little, writes G.V. Ramanathan, professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in a Washington Post column.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

Math and science lovers are doing very well, Ramanathan writes. But there's no need for everyone to "love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner."

Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?

I don't think math education is being sold as an aid to supermarket shopping or a fun hobby for all. (I am married to a man who uses math to analyze every financial decision; it is a hobby for him. But he is not "all.") The STEM push is about keeping career doors open for young people who may want to pursue technical, scientific or business careers.

Many high schools are phasing out Consumer Math or Business Math in favor of college-prep math courses. When all students have to take algebra, geometry and advanced algebra -- including those who never mastered fractions, decimals or multiplication -- there's enormous pressure to lower standards to minimize the failure rate.

In community college, math is a dream killer. Many students with no STEM interests get stuck in remedial math and never get to college-level classes in early childhood development or paralegal studies or some other math-lite field.

I wonder: Do remedial math classes teach essential, real-world, basic skills that students need no matter what future they pursue? Or could we limit math remediation by requiring less math knowledge?

 

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