Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Much Math Do We Really Need?

This article was an interesting one, given two things:

1. My work in public education
2. My love for math, science and technology

The author of this opinion is correct in that we are "selling" math to the masses like you do hair cream.

The author has also, however, asked the question of why do we need to shove more math down the throats of children, when we are producing Nobel laureates with or without pushing the math "hair cream"?

Not to be too obvious, but if more people, including our elected officials, understood math a little better, we might have been able to better avoid the recession we now live in. When the people monitoring the types of transactions that created this mess cannot handle the math to understand those transactions and what the consequences of those transactions are, what does that say about us?

The other reason why we need to teach the kids higher math (algebra, geometry, calculus)? Because, quite frankly, that is where the jobs are. Even if math is not used directly, the logic skills taught with learning math and science are also required for higher level jobs in the computer industry.

Now, that is not to say there is no value in teaching the liberal arts, including music, art, but also about history and storytelling. Why?

I've had on DVD, for some time now, an interview from the Charlie Rose program where he speaks with filmmaker George Lucas. George Lucas uses a lot of technology in making his movies, but understands the power of the story. At one point in the interview, George explains the importance of teaching the liberal arts in education. To paraphrase it:

Math and science can teach a child the how. Liberal arts, namely history, can teach the child why or why not.

The point is, if you want to teach a child how to build a weapon, that's the math and science. Liberal Arts teaches the child the reasons why they should or should not build the weapon. Understanding the consequences is a big segment of living as a part of society. We should also not lose that portion of education in order to chase the all important "Math in the U.S. vs. the World" statistic.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

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