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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Data literacy' will widen STEM gaps

I was willing to swear a solemn vow to not major in math or science in college, I told my teacher. All I asked was to get out of trig. Once math had made sense, but logarithms and cosines had broken my spirit. Now, I believed it was an endless cycle of suffering, a sadistic conspiracy to make me jump through one more set of hoops on my way to never, ever majoring in math or science or pursuing any career that required trigonometry.


"Armed with trendy buzzwords and false promises of greater equity, California is promoting an approach to math instruction that’s likely to reduce opportunities for disadvantaged students — in the state and wherever else educators follow the state’s lead," writes Brian Conrad, director of undergraduate studies in math at Stanford, in The Atlantic.

California's "math misadventure" will create an easier math track in high school for those who don't want to face advanced algebra and trigonometry, he writes. Students are promised future careers in "data science," but won't have enough math to earn a four-year college degree in data science, computer science or other quantitative fields.


Most high school classes that teach "data science" are really teaching data literacy, Conrad writes. It makes sense to teach "citizens enough about statistics and data to follow the news and make educated financial and health decisions." However, "much as a music-appreciation course won’t teach you how to play a piano, data literacy is not data science."


I was confident at 17 that I'd pursue a math-lite future. I majored in English and Creative Writing, and launched a career as a journalist. I have no regrets.


But many teenagers want a shot at those high-paying high-tech jobs. They may be persuaded to take the easy path, not realizing it is an "off ramp" from a STEM future, as Conrad puts it, rather than a viable alternative.


Let's be honest with students. You hate math and want to do as little as possible? Okay. Some careers will be off the table. They tend to be the ones that pay the most.

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13 Comments


Guest
Oct 11, 2023

One need not "master" calculus to derive some benefit from it, no more than one must "master" carpentry before installing a bookshelf or re-hanging a door, nor become a cordon-bleu chef to make s'mores. The whole "I don't do math, 'cause it's yucky" brigade needs a swift kick in butt and to STFU.

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Guest
Oct 07, 2023

I don't understand why it is so challenging for the educational establishment to plan for what most people intuitively understand. Schools need to offer advanced math for kids who want to do STEM things. Some students will start on the advanced track later and therefor not go as far. Some kids need an alternative pathway. I tutor elementary kids, and I can already see differences. Some kids intuitively grasp the concepts. Some kids struggle if they don't get good teaching but can at least follow the procedure if they are well taught. Some kids take months to understand what is going on with single and double digit addition and subtraction and face similar challenges with each new thing…

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Guest
Oct 07, 2023
Replying to

The education establishment, to a very high degree, is composed of English majors and people whose super power is being good with kids, and never having any other career. This should tell you everything you need to know.

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Guest
Oct 06, 2023

Oh, these kids don't need abstract thinking in the modern world. They need to believe the world is magic and all they have to have is faith in the Woke dogma.


An education stressing the intellect, such men charged, places too great a burden on the child and thwarts his emotional development. An education teaching facts and objectivity improperly emphasizes external factors at the expense of the child’s “inner experience.” What Germany needs, they concluded, is a new kind of institution: not cold, cognition-centered “learning-schools,” but feeling-centered “Lebensschulen” (life-schools).
Peikoff, Leonard. Ominous Parallels (p. 52).
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Guest
Oct 05, 2023

A failure to master trig and calculus is a failure of teaching, not learning. Anyone of normal intelligence can learn these things, they just have to be taught well. In particular, the teacher has to be a real master of the class they teach. I agree that there is a limit the "esoteric-ness" of the math that normal people can learn, but I think that limit falls above high school trig and calculus.


Does a mere journalist need math? Clearly, they do. Almost daily, I read news stories written by innumerate "journalists" who can't detect the foolishness in their articles, because they don't have math enough to recognize them. When people say, "I don't need any math in my da…

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Guest
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

Regarding "mastery":


Here's a thought experiment: Suppose we demand that everyone "master" push-ups. Where do we draw the line? 1000? A very small number of people will ever be able to do that, and most won't even want to. But let's say that everyone does, in fact, manage to do at least 1,000 push-ups. But then there will be some people capable of 10,000, and we'll move the goalpost in that direction.


In reality, when we shoot for "mastery for all", the bar will necessarily be set very low. It makes more sense to have multiple mileposts.


The focus on "mastery" sounds like pass-fail, with "pass" pronounced as "mastery".


I'm not sure of the new pronunciation of "fail".

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Guest
Oct 05, 2023

Once again, schools try to deal with the issue that not everyone can master calculus no matter how much is spent, how high standards are, or how well trained the teachers are. And no, all homeschoolers do not master calculus.

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