PJ Media

Is Math Necessary?

Well, the 10th Carnival of Homeschooling is up and hosted by Anne at a href=”http://palmtreepundit.blogspot.com/2006/03/10th-carnival-of-homeschooling.html”Palm Tree Pundit./a As I scrolled through the line-up, I checked out the posts on “a href=”http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/BarbaraFrank/89388/”Why They Need Algebra/a” and “a href=”http://spunkyjunior.blogspot.com/2006/02/life-without-algebra-i-think-not.html”Life Without Algebra? I Think Not/a.” I thought of my own child who insists that she “does not need math.” When I hear this, I cringe. My father was a mathematician who spent hours (I mean hours) a day teaching me Algebra, Trig and Pre-Calculus. In my first year of college, when I thought I would be an Aerospace Engineer (fat chance of that), my dad still coached me through my first year of advanced Calculus. br /br /This is why I get disheartened when I read journalists like Richard Cohen at the a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2006/02/15/BL2006021501989.html”Washington Post giving advice /alike this to a girl who had failed Algebra six times:br /br /blockquoteHere’s the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know — never mind want to know — how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later — or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note — or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please./blockquotebr /br /It’s amazing that this journalist is so egocentric that he doesn’t see the need for knowing a subject outside of his own field as something important for kids. When reporters at newspapers think that writing is the highest form of reasoning, we have to question where their priorities lie. Knowing something about the world is nice–but knowing how the world works is the ultimate knowledge. br /br /I came to see the beauty, complexity and sheer enjoyment of doing math and have been forever grateful to my dad for instilling in me a sense that math was important. But so many kids hate math and this extends into the teen and adults years. Just go to any check-out counter and ask the clerk to calculate change without a machine of some sort and see the glazed look of puzzlement in his or her eyes. It’s a shame because we need more mathematicians and young people in the hard sciences, not fewer. Anyone got any clever ideas on how to interest kids in math?br /br /Update: Joanne Jacobs has more thoughts a href=”http://www.joannejacobs.com/mtarchives/016015.html”on life without algebra/a.