Let’s Fix Math Education By Redefining Math

John Wihbey:

As we become a more data-driven society, we need to consider education reforms that will address both.

In his new book The Math Myth, Andrew Hacker—a longtime political scientist at Queens College in New York and a professor of numeracy courses—looks at how a new approach to teaching math could help the world. He questions the benefit of advanced math, such as trigonometry and calculus, and says he’s “waiting to be shown that agility with polynomials produces sharper insights on other topics.” Hacker doesn’t deny the virtues of differential equations for budding engineers, but he argues that the way we teach math to millions of other students is deeply flawed and morally misguided. It alienates and fails many, contributes to the dropout rate in high school, blocks even a community college degree, especially for the socioeconomically disadvantaged (a “harsh and senseless hurdle”), and in turn ensures a less equal society. Given how dull most students find math, he’d much rather generate enthusiasm for numbers by focusing on complex real-world problems. He writes that students need to “read, speak, and think numerically,” particularly using public data, from IRS tax figures to census numbers to household spending trends