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Why I hate the educational system.

  1. Feb 23, 2014 #1
    I hate that other students in better colleges are taking the same courses as me, yet they have a superior book. For instance, my school requires Stewart for the Calculus series and I am sure other schools are using a more rigorous book. The academia should be about nurturing a students intellectual curiosity, and to stimulate the students critical thinking skills. Why the hell does Stewart Calculus book have exercises with trigonometric components but does not give atleast one trigonometric example of such problem? I am afraid by the time I transfer to a university I will not be
    prepared as the other students who took math classes in the better colleges.

    I have multiple calculus books( Spivak, Apostol, Swokoski, Thomas). These books can be found extremely cheaper then the 7th edition of Stewart's Calculus. The example in these other books are more coherent and gives readers a sense of intuition when tackling the sea of mathematics.

    When I opened Thomas Calculus I was extremely enraged. Not because the book is atrocious, but rather the breadth of topics it covers and it's better explanations. Examples of trigonometric problems involving limits are explained. Aswell as a harder set of exercises.

    I know I am not alone in this. Any PF members feel the same about the educational paradigm?

    Would you guys say thomas calculus is better then Stewarts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2014 #2


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    Who says you are required to own and learn from one calculus text? I started with a cheap Barnes & Noble calculus text, had a different text in HS, Thomas in college for calculus and Kreyszig for Advanced Engineering math. I also own the 2 volume Courant calculus, but I have never really cared for proofs and such. The Schaum's intro and advanced calculus books offer a wealth of solved problems and student exercises.

    Besides, and I apologize for enraging you further, if so many schools didn't assign Stewart, how could he have paid for his fabulous house?

  4. Feb 23, 2014 #3
    Stewart's books are very widely used. The guy is rich from those books, I hear. I taught my calculus recitations at one of the top math departments using Stewart.

    Stewart isn't always the greatest, but it's not that bad. Yes, the educational system is crap, but it's got bigger fish to fry than Stewart. If that's what you think is wrong with it, I don't think you have a very good grasp of the problem. I don't think people should just skip calculus and go right into analysis. You do calculus first and you get more of a practical take on the subject, you gain some intuition, you get practice with calculations, as opposed to proofs. You need both perspectives. People who just jump right into analysis sometimes end up having weird gaps in their knowledge that embarrass them in front of everyone else who studied both calculus and analysis. The calculus perspective and the real analysis one later, if you're interested.

    I do think Stewart's last chapter on div, curl, Stoke's theorem, and the divergence theorem is truly awful and should be outlawed, though. If I taught calculus III, I'd be tempted to do what the poetry teacher did in Dead Poet's Society and have all my students just rip that chapter out of the book. More likely, I'd just explain the ideas myself, instead of pulling them out of my butt like Stewart does. This is a subject, honestly, I think quite a few mathematicians don't really understand (though some are more informed on this particular thing). Physicists and engineers have much better explanations in their books, in this particular case because these theorems lose all their beauty if they are not approached through physical intuition.

    You can always read Spivak or something on your own, if you are so inclined. Most people wouldn't take kindly to it, I suspect. So, yeah, lowest common denominator. That's part of the problem. But really, for a lot of people Stewart is all they are going to need (though it could be improved upon slightly). Not everyone is going to be a mathematician, and we don't need them to be. Some will be engineers who barely even use calculus more than just knowing a couple of the concepts. Even Nobel prize winners in physics have accused mathematicians of wasting people's time with epsilons and deltas (they are important, but not everyone needs them).
  5. Feb 23, 2014 #4
    I think most mathematicians prefer Apostol and Spivak to Stewart, but that is a biased sample. The fact is that Stewart is written to address the needs of a greater percentage of the typical calculus class than Apostol or Spivak is. (This is true even at top universities.)

    If you need to prepare yourself more rigorously, you have to take the initiative. Go to the professor and explain that you're finding the course too easy, and that you are concerned it isn't preparing you well for your future plans. If you're even close to correct about that, the professor will probably agree with you that the course is too easy and have ideas for how you can add some rigor to your education.
  6. Feb 23, 2014 #5


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    This is a good opportunity for you to start teaching yourself. If you start a Ph.D. program you'll quickly learn that you are responsible for your own education and the sooner you learn to seize the opportunity to take matters into your own hands, the better. (and your grades will improve if they aren't already top notch).
  7. Feb 23, 2014 #6
    The whole book publishing system is a scam. The material hasn't changed in decades or sometimes hundreds of years so you could get a $5 old, used book to learn from but these scam artists require you to buy the latest edition so that you can get online access codes or different numbered problems. It's all a scam and you're not alone in your thinking.
  8. Feb 23, 2014 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Why is it surprising that better schools would use a better book?
  9. Feb 23, 2014 #8

    The aesthetic principle of what is knowledge is a call which all institutions of higher learning yell. Yet they do the exact opposite and never confess. If knowledge of the science is hidden or made extremely perverse ( dumb down), then
    The society in which people live in will stop to growth.

    **** MIt. Yell. Standford. Cambridge. Princeton. Caltech etc
  10. Feb 23, 2014 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    And what good would it be to use a book that is too advanced for many of the students?
  11. Feb 23, 2014 #10
    "Students will rise to the expectations placed on them"~ Jaime Escalante
  12. Feb 23, 2014 #11


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    Every non-honors introductory physics class ever taught begs to differ. You're living in a fantasy world. Make with what you have.
  13. Feb 23, 2014 #12


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    Stewart is the best textbook for PRACTICAL calculus (for engineers and scientists), period.
  14. Feb 24, 2014 #13

    It is not a fantasy. Teacher from latin america comes to garfield highschool in los angeles. A highschool whose students are predominantly hispanic with immigrant parents. The area is known for poverty and gangs. Teaches kids calculus and the children score higher then other highschools in white neighberhoods.
  15. Feb 24, 2014 #14

    So I bet ur going to be happy when you have a teacher teaching ur child mathematica who could barely pass introductory statistics with a C.
  16. Feb 24, 2014 #15


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    If you find the class to be easy, you're in the wrong class. It sounds like you would be happiest at a school where you are among the weakest of the students. Then you would be pushed hard to keep up. Seek out such a school and stop complaining; you've learned something important (much more important than the calculus proofs you are missing).
  17. Feb 24, 2014 #16
    You're right. It's not a fantasy. We watched that movie in my AP calculus class, oh so long ago in the year 2000 when I graduated from high school. However, that guy was a genius at teaching. It's not a simple matter of applying that one quote. What we need to do is figure out ways to turn the average Joe teacher into a genius teacher. Methods that are truly reproducible.

    I used to be pretty idealistic about education and how easy it would be to fix it. That was before I actually taught a class. I think once you teach, you realize what you're up against. Not that it's impossible, but the problem is very, very difficult. Artificially difficult, possibly, but still difficult, because the system is failing as a whole. It can be hard for one teacher to make that much difference when every teacher before them has failed. Not impossible, but very hard.

    Of course, it may be easier than it looks, but not many people seem receptive to new ideas, so progress is hard to come by.

    It's not just a matter of brute force and raising the standards, either. Here are some clues.



    So, I'm hoping these are just a couple of the signs that there is light at the end of the tunnel and maybe some people are going to come to their senses about the way we've been teaching.
  18. Feb 24, 2014 #17
    The problem is difficult because professors are up against many things:

    • Huge classes. What works in a high-school class of 40 students will not work in a lecture of 400.
    • Standardized curricula. In many cases, you aren't allowed to try to reform the school's calculus curriculum all by yourself, or even use a different textbook. If a large school changes the calc text, that is a big enough deal to make it worth it for an executive of the publishing company whose text was dropped to pay a personal visit to the dean.
    • Student reviews. If you make the class harder you will get worse reviews than if you make it easy. This means that you will have less influence over how the class is taught next year, because the students hated the way you did it, while they liked the way the previous professor did it. Now, some teachers will get great reviews no matter how hard they make the class, but they are few and far between, and even then, their reviews will be worse when they make the class challenging.
    • Interdepartmental politics. If you change things so that they are more mathematically rigorous, and it turns out that the failure rates of engineering students go up by a small amount, you might think this is worth it (especially because the ones who don't fail will have risen to your expectations). But the engineering department probably has a different opinion. They will threaten to teach calculus themselves, since the mathematics department is "failing their best students". That would mean a huge loss of funding for the math department, so the math department will prevent it by intervening in the calculus class to force you to make it easier.
    • Limited time. In research universities, the professors have to be ludicrously successful at their research, or they will get fired. Good luck trying to design a new curriculum at the same time.
  19. Feb 24, 2014 #18


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    Reality is uglier than a quote! How many classes have you taught to think that that quote is valid?

    This thread is no longer about academic guidance, but rather an academic rant. It is now severely off-topic.

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