Stop requiring all students to learn advanced algebra, geometry and trigonometry, argues David Edwards, who teaches math at the University of Georgia.
It’s a myth that the economy needs everyone to master higher math, he argues in the Foundation for Economic Education blog.
Even “the vast majority of scientists, engineers and actuaries” use only Excel and eighth-grade math, defined as “arithmetic, and a little bit of algebra, statistics and programming,” writes Edwards.
When Accenture was recruiting math and computer science majors at UGA, Edwards invited them to speak to his Math for Computer Science class.
After they finished, I asked the consultants: So, what mathematics do you actually use? They sheepishly responded: None. So, I asked them: What computer science do you actually use? Again the answer was: None. They were only interested in math or computer science majors as a convenient filter!
“Higher mathematics is central to a serious higher education,” Edwards believes. However, this applies only a “minute fraction” of students: He envisions a Harvard philosophy major.
The argument — popular in math departments — that math helps students “think clearly” is “self-serving nonsense,” Edwards writes. “In sports there is the concept of the specificity of skills: if you want to improve your racquetball game, don’t practice squash! I believe the same holds true for intellectual skills.”
What do you think? If students were competent in arithmetic, with a bit of algebra, statistics and programming — and Excel — would they be good enough?