Monday, September 26, 2016

The Case for Advanced Mathematics in High School


In an interview with Jane Karr for the New York Times (Feb. 5, 2016), political scientist Andrew Hacker proposes replacing Algebra II and Calculus in high school with Statistics and a course on citizenship.  His rationale is that only mathematicians and engineers actually use advanced mathematics in their daily work.

The following are my own observations on teaching advanced mathematics in high school.

1.     Advanced mathematics is used in a variety of careers.  When I taught Calculus, Trigonometry, and Algebra II, the students used the math concepts and skills in the following real life applications:  physical science, business, economics, engineering, social science, behavioral science, life science, agriculture, air traffic control, architecture, consumer forecasts, quality control testing, and others.  Mathematics is a powerful tool for understanding real world phenomena.
2.     The study of advanced mathematics is not limited to utilitarian purposes.  It also serves to develop critical thinking, logic, analytic and synthetic reasoning, argumentation and proof.  Mathematics serves to develop understanding of pattern, sequence, relationships, and algorithms.
3.     There are students who will elect to study advanced mathematics in high school, even it is not a graduation or an A-G university requirement.  In doing so they enhance their chances of admission to the college of their choice; they also increase their marketability in a competitive job market.  It speaks well of student’s character, motivation, and perseverance when he or she undertakes challenging coursework.
4.     In the fifteen years I taught Calculus, I heard many testimonies from students who were glad that they did because of the preparation they received for college-level classes (I even have two written testimonials.)  In all that time, I never once heard a student tell me they regretted taking advanced mathematics.
5.     One of my nieces is studying Biochemistry at the University of Washington; my nephew was recently accepted to the Watershed Science Program at Colorado State University.  Both of them have used advanced algebra and Calculus in their studies.

Conclusion:  A public high school is one of the best environments in which to offer a variety of challenging classes – mathematics, biology, creative writing, and even political science – because it is supportive, safe, and, provides opportunity and access for all students.  Not all students have the means to go to college but all students should be able to experience college-level courses at a public high school.  

What do you think?  Should high school students be required to take certain classes on subjects that do not explicitly relate to their college/career choices? 

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