Education has been the surprise election issue this Midterm season as politicians vie for votes by raising the alarm over America’s seeming lack of science and math skills among the young. G.V. Ramanathan, however, wonders if the nation isn’t all in a lather about nothing. Where math is concerned Ramanathan, a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, can rightly call himself something of an authority on the matter, and he believes that everything the majority of us need to know about math, we learned in elementary school.
Is Math Relevant in Daily Life?
In a recent article for The Washington Post, Ramanathan questions the frenzied call to arms of the education establishment to try and boast the almost zero interest most Americans have in math beyond the basics. He points out that since the first clarion of concern in 1983′s A Nation At Risk a lot of money and time has been devoted to promoting math, but that standardized test scores of American teens have improved not one bit since the 1980′s. And despite the angst and alarm this causes politicians and business interests, the fact is that most people aren’t required to use advanced math in their daily lives, either at work or personally. Math is less relevant to daily life than literature, history, politics, music and communication skills.
Americans Stack Up Well
In spite of the hordes lack of interest, math still thrives. Those with interest and aptitude stack up quite well with math lovers all over the world. The United States boasts some of the best graduate study programs in the world, and since 1983 has produced 140 Nobel laureates, which is the exact same number it produced prior to 1983.
Why the Need to Love Math?
Ramanathan also raises an interesting question about why our children should be required to love math at all. They are not required to sing, paint, dance, love books or hunger after the ability to parse a sentence grammatically, after all. When a child cannot carry a tune in a bucket, she’s not placed in remedial choir, is she?
Basics are Enough
Successful education systems in other parts of the world focus on basics, which Ramanathan points out American schools could easily do more of, at the lower levels, when children are still keen on all things school. Students are sorted by interest and aptitude only as they reach the upper grade levels. It’s not assumed in other countries that all children should be college bound.
Given the combined juggernaut of testing, accountability and reform have swamped education debate like a tsunami, it’s unlikely Ramanathan’s rally for restoring sanity will be heeded, but at least he tried.
What Do You Think?
Are the advanced maths really necessary for a basic education? Is the American disinterest in math dooming our country to mediocrity? Or can a person thrive with just the basic math skills? Share your opinions and stories.
photo credit: Math Problems for Girls by Woodleywonderworks