By David Tager
6:00 AM EST, November 5, 2012
I am about to be highly critical of the new math curriculum to which our children are being subjected. Before doing so, let me state for the record that I am not a Philistine. Personally, I happen to enjoy math — enough to return to school after retirement and take college-level courses to find out what this thing I'd heard of, calculus, was all about.
I am not an educator. My wife and I are college graduates. We have two sons, one of whom was graduated from college and one grandson who is currently in the eighth grade and who will probably attend Poly.
As I understand it, the new curriculum is in large measure an attempt to respond to the fact that the United States lags many other countries in math and science. Another objective of the program is to try to make mathematics relevant to the "real world."
These laudable goals are doomed to failure; the curriculum is far too difficult for most students. I fear that the proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" fully applies. Clearly, the new curriculum will benefit those who aspire to enter engineering, physics, medicine and similar professions. Further, virtually all of our colleges and universities have a mathematics requirement (more about that later). By all means, challenge these students with the new curriculum — perhaps with even more difficult work.
For all others, I argue that math beyond algebra I (perhaps any algebra) is totally unnecessary and irrelevant. Perhaps even algebra itself. The experience of one person hardly constitutes a scientific study, but I spent my entire professional career as a certified public accountant turned computer programmer and needed to use algebra exactly twice. Both times the mathematics was basic.
Many students continue to struggle with fundamentals, up to and including simple fractions, decimals and percentages. The average student (really, all students) will need instruction in financial literacy. Students need to understand the concept of interest. They need to know how to prepare a budget. They need to know how to comparison-shop.
They do not, however, need to know quadratic equations or the formula for calculating the area of a circle or even that A squared plus B squared equals C squared. They need to understand traffic signs. They do not need to know what the sine of 30 degrees is. They need to develop self-esteem — not be frustrated with concepts that have no relevance for them.
I would teach the new curriculum only to those who aspire to professions that require mathematics beyond algebra 1 and 2. Many colleges will continue to require advanced math. I think this is unfortunate, but it is reality. Therefore, as a practical matter, I would also include those who plan to attend college regardless of career objectives.
For those who will probably not go on to college, the new curriculum should not be required but should certainly be available. I leave it to the administrators to figure out the complications presented by such a dual program.
I have spoken to a few middle school math teachers about the new curriculum. They have been circumspect. After all, they have to live with it. But all said that they had concerns. I suspect that they are really thinking what I have stated — that unless major changes are made, the new curriculum will be used to pave the road to hell.
David Tager is a semi-retired resident of North Baltimore. He helps his grandson with his math homework and the rest of the time spoils him rotten. His email is email@example.com.
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