Want more math in school? Really? - FamilyEducation

# Want more math in school? Really?

June 27,2008
Todd Lieman
At the risk of alienating my math-teacher mom and math-Ph.D. brother, I don’t hesitate to say that I don’t care all that much about math (in general). I did well enough in my math courses, but numbers were never really something that spoke to me the way words do (or, back in the day, the way sports did). And, as I think about K-Man’s future, I don’t usually think about his math aptitude. Apparently, I’m in the minority, however, as the Associated Press has released results from a poll that suggests a majority of parents want more math for their kids.

Really?

I’ve never loved math. I remember sitting in my geometry class in high school wondering if I would EVER really use the stuff. Geography, maybe. But, geometry? I just couldn’t see it. It’s been about 25 years since I was in that class, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it without any thought given to the “parallel postulate.” (I have, however, recounted Mrs. Smith – the crazed, mean teacher. She’ll be with me forever.)

Because I’ve watched the TV show Numbers, I know that “math is all around us.” Hell, on that show, it’s actually used to track down serial killers and find bomb locations. I’m guessing if that were true, however, there would be more police officers recruited from Ivy League schools. I can’t make such a generalization, but I’m just guessing the officers I’ve dealt with in the past haven’t graduated from Yale. (Of course, neither did I – so, no judgments here!)

So, math is all around us. Great. So are calculators. And, really…that’s good enough for me. As long as K-Man has the basics and can understand how to add, subtract, divide and whatever comes into play day-to-day…I think that’s good. (Granted, if he takes to math the way my brother did, then, by all means, he can solve some ancient proof. Go nuts!)

What I find interesting, however, is that the very same AP survey (which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – for whatever that’s worth) found that parents want more math, but less standardized testing. Huh? Math is the very embodiment of standardized testing. How do those two go together? We want our kids to think more freely – out of the box, but we want them to do it while working on their word problems? Maybe it’s just too early in the morning for me to process that.

The most unfortunate thing about the survey, however, is this, “A tiny fraction picked art, music and the sciences, such as biology and chemistry. Okay, I’m all for less science, too (though blowing things up in chemistry was pretty fun). But, if we look at the life and business trends, creativity is our greatest asset. MBA programs aren’t looking for business majors; they are accepting creative writers. Even medical schools are seeking more creative, well-rounded students – not just those who majored in pre-med. And, of course, the ultimate irony is perhaps the fact that most of the parents who suggest that more math be taught in schools probably can’t help their kids with that homework anyway! (Yes, like me.)

K-Man is still a few years away from “formal education,” and by then there will be a different AP survey that suggests something totally different be taught in schools. So, none of this really matters too much. Just makes for good news and blog fodder, I guess. In the meantime, I won’t worry too much about teaching a three-year-old about long division or multiplication tables. I won’t worry too much about math at all. (Sorry, Mom.)

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