Student Experience

Dear Math,

One of the things I’m learning in high school is math. Or, more specifically, pre-calculus. It’s a difficult class, to say the very least. I’m learning about an entirely new dimension on the number line, a new type of number that encapsulates all other numbers I’ve ever known, and I’m learning algebra that doesn’t just seem Greek to me – it actually has Greek letters in the equations. And, while this is super interesting, all of this advanced, interesting math, these ‘imaginary’ numbers, the complex numbers, I struggle to find any practical use for this type of math. Knowing how to balance equations that use i is certainly a cool thing to know how to do, but if I’m thinking about being an English major, is that really the most valuable thing I could be doing with my time?

This is something that I think about, and something that various other students have told me as well. Someone who wants to be a translator, or someone working in med school – neither of these two professions use math in the way it is being taught to us in the slightest. This isn’t an issue that is only at my school either. I’m being taught a generic US curriculum, meaning that all students across the USA as well as anywhere else using a US curriculum are being taught complex math that is only used in very, very niche jobs (such as an electrical engineer). So, essentially, this is my way of saying that the way schools teach math to kids needs to be changed. But, in order to figure out how to change a curriculum, you have to know how it started.

Math first started gaining real importance back around 500 BC – when Pythagoras (known mainly for his work with the Pythagorean Theorem) was first coming into light. It only grew in importance as well, causing people who were previously known as math fanatics to gain roles as important as ‘the Royal Mathematician’. This put great stress upon the importance of mathematics, because math was given great importance – it was essentially made the paragon of what a person should be good at. The idea that math is the most important thing for a society to be learning was imprinted into our way of thinking, and it has stayed for over twenty-five hundred years.

Students today are learning math concepts that were deemed to be important thousands of years ago, and this is unlike anything else students are even close to studying. Students aren’t learning Victorian English, physics from the 1920’s, or economics based off of a time period a hundred years ago. Everything else a student learns is modern – even history!

Math is due for a shift, a change in how much we value it. Schools need to teach math in a way that makes sense in modern times – learning how to divide polynomials with long division just isn’t practical or efficient when there’s a calculator that can do it for you in a fraction of the time. Math needs to be reworked down to its core, and re-evaluated on what needs to be taught to kids. Sure, everyone should learn the fundamentals, the addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication, how to read a graph and how to balance basic equations, but past that? Nobody should need to learn an antiquated version of something that has evolved far past its previous self. Learning like this is a waste of time, an added stress upon students already heavy workload.

Make more advanced math an elective, and teach children how to do taxes, how to balance a checkbook, how to find and buy a house. I know I’m gonna live somewhere when I grow up, pay taxes, and buy groceries – but calculate the angle within a circle based off of the Pythagorean Theorem? I think not.

Categories: Student Experience

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