Monday, November 26, 2012

Why do we teach math?

In The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics Education Alex Reinhart attacks the current approach of teaching math in public schools. 

His columns starts with:

In American schools, mathematics is taught as a dark art. Learn these sacred methods and you will become master of the ancient symbols. You must memorize the techniques to our satisfaction or your performance on the state standardized exams will be so poor that they will be forced to lower the passing grades. Never mind the foundational principles, proofs, or derivations – you’ll learn those in due course.

Why? Why do math? Because you’ll need it, that’s why. You’ll use it in your physics classes. And I’m sure I can think of examples of how you’ll use math in “real life”, whatever your chosen career may be. Right? Right. I hear engineers have to know how to solve differential equations, for example, and before you can do differential equations you need to learn logarithms. So get back to chapter 14 and get working.

This is the message we’re giving our children, and it’s no wonder so few students develop an interest in mathematics. Ask any math major: Math isn’t about memorizing some formulas and learning how to factor polynomials. It’s… well, it’s something much deeper. It’s fascinating. But what is it exactly?

He then goes on to explain how much of life is learning the rules and how to work with the rules.

Good column.

Some good thoughts.

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