Monday, May 3, 2010

You Don't Have To Be A Rocket Scientist

We have all heard the phrase "You don't have to be a rocket scientist", but when it comes to our public schools it seems as though you DO have to be a rocket scientist...or at least you need to have the math skills of a rocket scientist. As a parent I am often puzzled by the emphasis schools put on math. I understand that math is an important part of our economy and there are several careers that require an advanced understanding of math. But be honest, when was the last time you had to calculate the area of a parallelogram? Most of us will only use basic math once we are finished with our schooling. We may need to calculate the tip at a restaurant or figure out which laundry detergent is less expensive per fluid ounce. But that is the extent of our math requirements.

The problem is that our schools are not willing to take the time to determine the talents and strengths of each individual student. They just teach everybody as if they are on a career path to become an engineer. But the vast majority of students will choose another career path that doesn't require calculus or the use of differential equations. Maybe a child is a talented artist and wants to be a graphic designer. Maybe a child has a talent for writing, communications, organizational behavior, computer science, biology or any of a number of other careers. Why not allow these children to take a basic math class and be done with it. Then maybe when they get to college and get more focused on a career path they can start taking more advanced math classes if required.

I have two children at home right now. My son is a math whiz and he really enjoys the challenge of learning new and more advanced mathematics. But I wouldn't be able to help him with his homework. Even though I completed and passed my calculus class in college, I haven't used advanced math for 20 years. So as soon as my kids get passed basic algebra, I am completely useless.

My daughter does not have a talent for math and every day is a struggle to complete her homework. Even though she is only in the 5th grade, I already know that she will not want a career with an emphasis on math. In fact, she currently wants to be an environmentalist which I fully support. My wish would be that as soon as she gets to Junior High, they would test her and find out her level of fluency in several subjects. Then allow her to create a class schedule that fits her strengths. What would be wrong with allowing kids to choose a basic math course where they could learn real life application of basic math. No more frustration, tears and aggravated math teachers. The advanced math classes would be full of kids who tested high in that area. It's a win/win for everyone.

In closing I would like to welcome any opposing viewpoints, but first you will need to solve the following equation. Don't forget to show your work. :-)

dS/dq = 2 SUM [-x sin(q)+y cos(q)][-x cos(q)-y sin(q)]


Karen said...

I totally understand your point of view. Have you read "The Element" by Ken Robinson? It's a very engaging book- check it out!

Anonymous said...

Computer Science needs math...and Computer Science needs girls! and Environmentalists need computer science technology to undo the effects! Knowing the practical application of math is no doubt motivating..I have an undergraduate degree in computer science, but I can honestly say that until I did an internship at a pharma company in my Junior year in college - i didn't get really really excited about the subject - that's when I saw what we could *do* with the tools. But remember, math teaches logic, focus, concentration, and the ultimate relationship between all things - lessons that will help Emma will do well in anything she chooses, including law, business, finance. She may not use differential equations on a daily basis if she's not designing bridges, but the training and confidence that comes from rigorous training is priceless for tackling future challenges. Tutoring may help. check out