Proposal: replace Algebra II and Calculus with "Statistics for Citizenship"

Andrew Hacker, a professor of both mathematics and political science at Queens University has a new book out, The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions, which makes the case that the inclusion of algebra and calculus in high school curriculum discourages students from learning mathematics, and displaces much more practical mathematical instruction about statistical and risk literacy, which he calls "Statistics for Citizenship."

Hacker's idea is based on a course in "civic numeracy" he's taught for two years, in which students learn to use mathematics to understand current affairs: gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, spotting fraudulent tax returns, and so on.

I have a theory that you can track the rationality of a society by the number of people who play the lottery -- and that a significant achievement for an education system would be to graduate a cohort who never bought a single lotto ticket. The rise and rise of Drumpf tracks pretty closely to those eye-popping Powerball jackpots.

“We are really destroying a tremendous amount of talent—people who could be talented in sports writing or being an emergency medical technician, but can’t even get a community college degree,” Hacker told me in an interview. “I regard this math requirement as highly irrational.”

Unlike most professors who publicly opine about the education system, Hacker, though an eminent scholar, teaches at a low-prestige institution, Queens College, part of the City University of New York system. Most CUNY students come from low-income families, and a 2009 faculty report found that 57 percent fail the system’s required algebra course. A subsequent study showed that when students were allowed to take a statistics class instead, only 44 percent failed.

The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions [Andrew Hacker/New Press]

Down With Algebra II! [Dana Goldstein/Slate]

(via /.)

(Image: Algebraic equation notation, Iantresman, CC-BY-SA)

Notable Replies

  1. May I stand up and give Andrew Hacker a standing ovation?

    Algebra II and Calculus destroyed the GPA of so many kids in art, literature, and music courses. They're ridiculous requirements for high school kids, especially since they know, day one, that they will never use any of this in their lives or future schooling, so there's zero motivation to work hard at it.

    No idea why Cory links proper education to the sale of lottery tickets, though. Whether you're a high school dropout or Einstein, gambling with a dollar isn't a reflection on your intelligence or education level. Sometimes it's just fun.

  2. There is a reason that writing and maths have traditionally been reserved for the elites, and it is not a good reason.

    I think America needs to add "Practical Abnormal Psychology" to the curriculum, as that would be just as helpful in avoiding the Drumpfs of the world.

  3. For me and everyone I know it comes down to an excuse to tell your friends about your wish fulfilment fantasies. Which is a kind act, and encourages bonding.

    I drop a buck a year in Powerball not to win anything, but as an excuse to talk about the innovative, free range, cage free bakery I'm gonna open.

    Why yes, I am insufferable. Why did you all ask at once?

  4. I've always been a math-phobe and had a very hard time retaining math skills. It's not something I'm proud of. I've tried in the past to boost my skills "just because", but I have a poor attention span and unless I have a practical use for something I find it really hard to retain much of it.

    I never really excelled at algebra; I learned it because it was required but I never really enjoyed it (other than Cartesian plotting). I certainly don't remember much of it. Statistics on the other hand I really enjoyed and it's something I can apply to my daily life as a software developer. I do find my lack of a traditional maths education to be a disadvantage at time but I manage to work with it.

    I find I do best when I learn about something because it's a skill I need, not because it's something a curriculum requires. I feel confident if I have a need to learn trigonometry or geometry I can do so. I've been slowly starting to pick up calculus as I've started getting more into electronics as a hobby.

    I will say thank goodness for Khan Academy making all levels of math education accessible.

    To get back on topic for the post, as a self-professed math-phobe I would have probably enjoyed learning math using an approach like that. That certainly works better for me than being assured "you'll need to know this as an adult" or "you'll never get into computers unless you know this". All bullshit. Learning and applying using practical and interesting examples is a winner.

  5. You are aware the name was changed sometime during the 17th century? You, also, seem to be unnecessarily creating a narrative. The facts are ugly enough, that was my original point.

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