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Why isn't calculus taught in high school?

  1. Sep 1, 2011 #1
    Why is calculus only an elective (optional) course in high school? If it is a requirement in college, then why aren't college-bound high school graduates brought up to speed about the much more advanced mathematics they will learn in college? Why aren't there any calculus questions on the math segment of the SAT/ACT?

    Calculus is FAR more difficult and advanced than algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Because of the sheer complexity and non-linear nature of the equations. You're average person would probably have a very difficult time trying to learn calculus.

    Calculus really isn't necessary outside of the realm of physics/science and engineering. So most non-science majors won't have any use for it. Basic algebra/geometry/trig is more than sufficient for most studies.
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  3. Sep 1, 2011 #2
    Advanced calculus, as in "calculus for the sake of calculus", is not really something science/engineering majors need to focus on. That's why applied calculus is offered at pretty much any college. But I disagree when you say that it is a required course in college -- it isn't, outside of science, engineering and finance, as far as I know.

    For people who are "mathematically inclined", Calculus 1 should be fairly simple. But a lot of people struggle with the concept of a derivative and especially that of a formal limit. Why do you think it should be introduced as a required course any earlier than college freshman year?
  4. Sep 1, 2011 #3


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    Why should everyone study the same things? Almost all subjects should be elective.
    Calculus is not more difficult and advanced than algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Those who have trouble with calculus often have trouble with the others as well.
    The place of calculus as the subject after algebra, geometry, and trigonometry is due to its use in other subjects. Any number of other subjects could replace calculus otherwise.
    Calculus can be learned well in high schools, the problem is often it is not. You have under estimated the effect of calculus in high schools. The main one being high schools and colleges have adopted a lower level calculus instead of striving for a higher one. There aren't there any calculus questions on the math segment of the SAT/ACT because those tests are not focused on calculus they do not care. The fact that calculus can be used to solve dull practical problems is an extra reason to study it , not the main one. Latin, music, art and other subjects are worth knowing about and they do not help in solving dull practical problems
  5. Sep 1, 2011 #4
    Tunnel vision?
    For most programs in college or university, math is certainly not a requirement, let alone calculus. Plus, not everyone goes to college after high school. I don't understand why you'd want to force all high school students to take an additional math class when only a tiny percent of them will end up making any use of it, while wasting everyone's time and resources in the process.
  6. Sep 1, 2011 #5


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    Yes the assumption for this thread is non-sense. It is not required in college for a vast majority of majors.
  7. Sep 1, 2011 #6
    My high school had Calc I-III and Differential Equations. I'm sure that there are other people who had similar experience in high school. And as the person above me said, many people don't take calc in college.
  8. Sep 2, 2011 #7
    Calculus and other maths, at their most advanced levels, are dizzyingly complex and mind-boggling. Anyone with an IQ below 130 might have an very difficult time trying to grasp extremely advanced mathematics.

    A large percentage of physicists and mathematicians tend to have very high IQ's. Especially those at top-tier universities.

    Good luck trying to teach a high school student with an IQ of ~100 the level of mathematics studied by people such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forbes_Nash,_Jr." [Broken].

    I always thought that college math explores every single branch of mathematics, including calculus, and it is a required part of the general education curriculum.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Sep 2, 2011 #8
    I don't get it.. Your first post implies that Calculus should be taught in high school, then your second post implies that trying to teach Calculus ("advanced") to high schools kids is a hopeless effort. What point are you trying to make?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  10. Sep 2, 2011 #9
    Lack of high school calculus teachers.
  11. Sep 2, 2011 #10
    Eh, I'm pretty sure in most cases calculus teachers are math teachers that just happen to teach a calculus class. At least that's how it was for my school.

    I guess a problem would be that schools might have to hire more math teachers, which would be unfeasible for many school districts that are being forced to deal with constant budget cuts.
  12. Sep 2, 2011 #11
    I studied nearly 2 year chemsitry in the universty in Ireland. In the 1st year and 1st semster of the2nd year, i didnt have calculas class at all...The maths class was so easy.

    Now I live in France. I found that the 2nd year high school french students must start learning limit,derivation, etc. I've read 1st year university maths textbook..It is very difficult. Maybe just for me.

    So , from my experience,

    Actually, Im from China where students only study calculus in the universty. But the calculus class isnt a option in the Universty in China. Even non-science students must pass the exam of calculus in the end of 4 years for getting a diploma. Most my friends hate Newton...

    From my experience, french students, I mean those science major student , are really good at calculus. We can see in the past 200 years, there were nearly 1/3 famous mathematicians are french. Not suprise...

    so personally, I think its good to start to learn calculus in the high school.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  13. Sep 2, 2011 #12
    Most people can't even grasp algebra. Do you really want a bunch of average joes trying to work through optimization problems?
  14. Sep 2, 2011 #13
    It's just calculus... The average high school student is able to grasp calculus.
    Also, Riemann sums are taught at the high school level.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  15. Sep 2, 2011 #14
    It's just calculus?

    My graduating year the class average in math was near 50% and it was simply advanced functions--do you really think more kids want to learn math?

    We'd have a catastrophic failure rate if we added calculus to EVERY curriculum; it may be acceptable for certain institutions but definitely not for all of them.

    I like math it doesn't mean everyone else has to--hell, I would shoot myself if I was forced to take art class. I'll gladly learn at a later date so that I can choose my own subjects.
  16. Sep 2, 2011 #15
    Here in Spain, I had calculus in 11th grade, full year course with everything you'd normally cover in single-variable calc. All computational/applied, no proofs. It was a requirement for anyone that wanted to take the science/eng & health sciences-oriented college entrance exam, since it was part of the material covered in the test.

    Though I didn't understand everything back then (and struggled at times), I think its good to have an initial watered down exposure before you get to college, because freshman college math here is extremely rigorous for all the higher level engineering degrees, as well as physics & math obviously (proof-based linear algebra, multivariable diff calc/Spivak-Apostol level analysis, for example).
  17. Sep 2, 2011 #16
    Hold on, so you're saying that your average high school student wouldn't be able to handle the high level classes that math majors take in grad school or towards the end of their degree? Man, I'd better call the school boards and warn them before they put that advanced topology class into the grade 11 curriculum...

    Seriously though, the system is fine the way it is. Kids who plan to take a math/science degree take calculus in high school, while those who plan to take other degrees get a taste of simple calculus in university. You're acting like everyone is forced to take graduate-level mathematics courses to satisfy their options requirements. Calc 1 hardly falls under the category of 'extremely advanced mathematics.' At my university alone, hundreds of non-science majors who never took calculus in high school and likely have 'average' math skills do just fine in Calc 1 every year.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  18. Sep 2, 2011 #17
    Calculus is a basic college math course for freshman who are majors in technical disciplines. Most students only take a basic college math course, a slightly more rigorous version of high school mathematics. Thus putting calculus on the SAT/ACT is senseless.

    Calculus is not 'mind bogglingly' advanced, I taught myself single variable calculus during the summer between high school and freshman year of college; I am certainly not John Nash, much less Riemann.

    That said, as everyone has pointed out, you've answered your own question: the average person would struggle to learn calculus in high school (largely due to a total lack of interest, probably even more so than ability), and they would never, ever use it again.

    I don't know where you're getting your random figure for 130 IQ as a requisite for studying advanced mathematics. The standard counter-example is Feynman, who scored 125 and taught himself calculus in his early teens.

    EDIT: Also, there is no way an undergraduate is going to see every branch of mathematics. There are hundreds of sub-disciplines.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  19. Sep 2, 2011 #18

    What is this, the fourth thread you've started based on some ill-researched and completely unfounded assumption, which you have continued to vigorously defend with still more nonsensical "factoids"? I would've thought you (and everyone else here) would be bored of it by now.
  20. Sep 2, 2011 #19
    It's not mind-bogglingly advanced, but it's not easy either. It has a level of abstraction that most people simply cannot grasp.
  21. Sep 2, 2011 #20
    Its not that it has a certain level of abstraction. I contend that its more of a lack of understanding of how to approach the study of calculus. Its much different from what people are comfortable with in biology, english, or even that of algebra.

    Often in biology or english, students can read over the chapter and get an idea of things. And in algebra most don't even use the book as a serious supplement. They rely on the teacher to explain the concepts.

    But the problem that people have with calculus is not one of difficulty, rather of approach. Its sort of like art, you can't simply read about art to get good at it, you need a different approach. With calculus one should carefully and slowly follow the axioms and statements with paper and pen/pencil. One should also carefully digest the material at a non-superficial level and be diligent to details.

    And that is why many complain about calculus, because they simply don't know the right way of studying it.
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