A local man published an OpEd piece in the newspaper opining that New York State was being unreasonable in teaching kids more math than they really needed. He felt that basic functional math skills were sufficient for the average adult. After all, few of us actually use trigonometry, geometry, or algebra once we leave school. He alleges he is a proponent of math, but it should be an option, not a requirement for graduation.
I’m sure many in the community are cheering him on. Math-phobes are fairly common, and in fairness, math is hard for a lot of people. But I still don’t get his point. In general, I find my algebra skills a lot more useful than the details of the American Revolutionary War or the plot from The Old Man and the Sea. So why didn’t he assert that students only learn as much history or language skills as they will directly apply in their adult lives? School is not intended as a vocational experience. It is an opportunity to learn how to learn. That includes mastering core learning skills such as comprehension, interpretation, logical analysis, creativity, abstraction, etc. These are skills which can’t be learned directly. How would you teach a course in critical thinking without actually thinking about something? Math, like language, science, and history, teaches many of these skills. It is a language in it’s own right, and is arguably as fundamental as spoken and written language skills. Don’t sell the kids short. Besides, doing something that’s hard just might teach them some other useful life skills.