Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists. - Andrew Hacker an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.” (formatting mine.)
My son struggled with required math classes in both high school and college, as did I. And suspect both of us are somewhere within one standard deviation of a normal IQ. Politically-driven, nonsensical math requirements probably make me angrier than almost anything else in education right now. To think of the millions of lost classroom hours spent teaching useless skills that actually turn kids off education should make every educator angry - including math teachers.
I understand why top students - the A+ types - learn physics and calculus. I get why they study classic literature and the details of history. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, and engineers who will propel civilization forward.
But why do we make the B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to teach a walrus to tap dance. It's a complete waste of time and money. And most students fall into that middle category. I assume this ridiculous educational system is a legacy from a day when generic mental training was good enough for just about any job.
In our modern world, would it make more sense to teach B students something useful, such as entrepreneurship?
My response to that post, "If they let me design the math curriculum", still works for me, perhaps even more so given the NY Times editorial:
I've talked to a number of adults who, like me, are fairly well convinced that they could not graduate from high school today given the "rigorous" math curriculum requirement. And I am sure the majority of the legislators and business leaders who think four years of math is essential for every student couldn't either.
But as I think about it, four year of math is a great idea - we just need to start teaching the right kind of math - consumer math.
In my school days, "consumer math," was a euphemism for dummy math. You can't hack algebra or trig, Consumer Math class is for you. Ironically, today's graduate needs "consumer math" a heck of a lot more than trigonometry. In such a course I would include:
- Calculating interest rates on credit cards and other consumer loans.
- How to do your own income tax returns - state and federal.
- Determining both the rate of return and maintenance cost on mutual funds and other investments.
- Reading and interpreting statistics in the media.
- How to spot a Ponzi scheme (or how to run one).
- Applied statistics: chance of wining the lottery, odds of paying higher taxes because you make over $250,000, likelihood of inheriting a large sum of money when none of your relatives is rich, etc..
- Creating a personal budget and retirement plan.
- Understanding the current federal, state and local tax codes and determining the percentage of total income paid by different levels of income earners.
- Doing cost/benefit comparisons of medical, life, health, car, and home insurance policies.
- Converting measurements from metric to English - applied especially to medications.
- The fundamentals of entrepreneurship (as Adams suggests above.)
- And just a dose of bullshit literacy for good measure.
Oh, speaking of math skills, here is a sure fire way of knowing one has slipped into geezerdom. At the used book store recently, I gave the clerk a 20 dollar bill and a one dollar bill to pay for my $5.35 purchase. (Have you noticed that older used books are now selling for more than their original cover price?) Anyway, the clerk said she would have to just make change from the $20 since dealing with two bills was too complicated. She did relent after she checked (on a calculator) that my mentally calculated estimate of $15.65 in change was indeed accurate.
My immediate reaction: "Why aren't today's schools teaching kids to make change?" 50% of all criticisms leveled at schools would be eliminated if we simply taught kids how make change - every year, right through college. Spoken like a true geezer, huh?
OK, folks, when will educators find the courage to wrest control of curriculum out of the hands of the politicians and departments of education and put it back where it belongs - in individual schools? Complaining in the teachers' lounge and on echo chamber blogs isn't helping. Attending any political forums this fall to inform the candidates? Practicing willful, purposeful subversion? What?