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The Math Myth on Booktv/C-Span

  1. Aug 6, 2016 #1
    This may not be the right forum for this particular issue, but this is the one I'm comfortable posting on. I finished watching this program an hour or so ago, and it seemed to be the sort of thing Physics Forum posters would find interesting--and certainly have opinions on!

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 9, 2016 #2


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    A brief summary of the content would probably get more interest.
    What is the Math Myth?
    Who is Andrew Hacker?
    What are his views?
  4. Aug 9, 2016 #3
    Andrew Hacker is a professor of Political Science at Queens College in NYC. The Math Myth is a book of his that was published recently. His view is that attempting to teach higher mathematics to eighty percent of high school and college students is a waste of time at best, and counter-productive at worst.
  5. Aug 9, 2016 #4
    I really don't have the time to watch an hour long argument on this. Can you write down what his main arguments are for this? What about those students who will need mathematics later in their life? Does he also argue that we shouldn't teach history and biology, because they're also useless for at least 80% of the students?
  6. Aug 9, 2016 #5
    How about I give you the link for the NY Times editorial The Math Myth is based upon:

  7. Aug 9, 2016 #6
    Oh, I read that already. Instead of cutting algebra, they should start by looking at other western countries where this does not seem to be much of a problem. Seriously, in europe we all learn the quadratic equation and other polynomials. Students find it hard, but nobody is thinking of dropping an essential subject such as math. And certainly no student is failing high school because of high school algebra here.
  8. Aug 9, 2016 #7


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    What upsets me about his statements is the implicit assumption of students' stupidity and that higher math - whatever he means that is - „Is Algebra Necessary?“, NYTimes, 2012, is something difficult or unnecessary. I just answered on a thread about differential equations and it is astonishing how wide spread such systems are. In any field, including political science. It's a waste of time to tell students how difficult math is and to get them believe that bad marks are cool instead of teaching them the natural evolution of math right from the start.

    I very much assume that all of his opinions can be reduced to the desire to sell his books. I remember a guest lecture of Konrad Zuse. The whole auditorium was packed and everybody wanted to hear some of those stories from the past. Instead he spoke about his actual scientific work which was, sad to say this, neither interesting nor relevant. The entire event has been quite embarrassing in the end. Hacker strongly reminds on that. Only, that he swims on the overall opinion that "higher" math isn't needed in real life other than Zuse who at least had own ideas. This is cheap, wrong and embarrassing.
  9. Aug 9, 2016 #8
    I kind of agree with the conclusion, but not on the implications he draws from it.

    I think that for the vast majority of high school students, higher mathematics is a waste of time. They have no interest in it, they will never be in a situation where they will need it, and they will never want to be in a situation that calls for it. But they're not really the ones who matter. Maybe only one student out of dozens goes on to work in STEM, but the world really needs that one individual out of dozens, and exposure to advanced subjects is what allows people in that small group to discover their interests and abilities.

    It's the same with art, music, shop class, and social studies. Say you've got a curriculum that consists of (all at the college preparatory level) calculus, world politics, theater, band, shop, and painting. Taken individually, you might very well find that only one student out of ten gets any long-term educational benefit to being in those courses. But taken in the aggregate, that means that six out of ten students will finish the academic year with a specialized interest. That means that it was worth despite those courses individually having only a small effect.
  10. Aug 12, 2016 #9
    So a guy who has no qualification in science, math and engineering and is not employed in those fields has an opinion those subjects aren't relevant... How nice.

    Precisely why the west is forced to concede to the Eastern tigers in those fields. Their kids do the math, we tell ours is not important.
  11. Aug 12, 2016 #10
    Those same Eastern tigers are more prone to suicide due to academic failure. Would you like to add this Asian practice to our academic traditions?

    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016
  12. Aug 12, 2016 #11
    Not downplaying the seriousness of the claim but the statistics are very weak. Following the links this is about as rigorous as they get, absolutely nothing to link cause to math.

    When making such an emotional claim I think better data and sources should be used. The claim is not supported from your link, more like hearsay.

    "Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school."
  13. Aug 12, 2016 #12
    So you're implying that the US should either choose to do away with math or its students will commit suicide? Poor america.
  14. Aug 12, 2016 #13
    A slightly more subtle message may be that academic excellence is not without its downside, and that it is irresponsible to not consider that downside in this sort of discussion.
  15. Aug 12, 2016 #14
    Of course. I have criticized the academic system a lot of times already. Especially the US system is rotten to the core. But eliminating mathematics from the curriculum? That's no solution.
  16. Aug 12, 2016 #15


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    Laissez faire "academics?"
  17. Aug 12, 2016 #16
    For book author in the OP, the upside is that there is a downside.
  18. Aug 12, 2016 #17
    Who exactly is talking about doing away with the math curriculum? Hacker himself claims that all forms of higher math are necessary to twenty percent of the jobs out there. The implication though, is that eighty percent of all jobs do not require higher math. It occurs to me--ironically--that no one is looking at this situation mathematically. The debate is not whether we need arithmetic and mathematics, all of us do, the question is how much of each everyone of us needs. Beethoven and Bach both needed to know how to divide time into small, and often complicated, units, but neither of them needed to know how to do a quadratic equation.
  19. Aug 12, 2016 #18
    My guess is 100‰ of jobs depend on higher mathematics to enable people to do those jobs with a lower level of mathematics.
  20. Aug 12, 2016 #19
    How many jobs require the study of literature, history, philosophy, arts, biology, physics, chemistry? Most of the jobs don't require any of this. So let's remove these things too.
  21. Aug 12, 2016 #20
    Give ALL kids the opportunity to do the best and highest of everything or we betray them their heritage.
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