Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I can do algebra but I can't figure out my taxes.

I can do algebra but I can’t figure out my taxes.

Now comes Algebra II to join the band wagon of a more rigorous education.  Pay no attention to the fact that only about 5% of the workforce uses math beyond basic arithmetic.  The addition of Algebra II to the required coursework for high school students is part of the poker game we have been playing of late with our high school students.
Education is highly political, particularly on a local level.  Governors and county officials want to claim they have the best and toughest educational programs with the highest standards.  So school district 1 requires 21 credits for a high school diploma.  Along comes school district 2 that says, I’ll see you at 21 credits and raise it to 23 credits.  On and on it goes until some school districts in Maryland are requiring 26 credits for the high school diploma. 
Now that the schools have probably reached the credit limit for a 4-year program they have needed to move to something else.  That is where math comes it.
It seems very reasonable to me that students should study math for all four years of high school.  The question is which math should that be?
Very few people in the workforce are going to need to use quadratic equations and other skills of advanced math courses.  And if they do, those courses are appropriately taught in college for those students who are going into those fields of endeavor. Or they could be taught as part of a specific vocational training program for those people studying for areas that require more advanced math.
For the remaining 95% of students, why are we not teaching financial literacy.  Fifty-two percent of Americans are invested in the stock market.  That does not count the other Americans whose pension funds are invested in the stock market.  How many of those Americans can read a corporate report so they can make an informed decision regarding purchase.  Or do they rely on a financial advisor and hope for the best.  How do Americans make budget decisions for the political entity in which they live?  Do they even understand budgets?  Do they realize that something purchased on sale is not a savings if they fail to pay off that credit card within the grace period and essentially pay an additional 20%+ of compound interest on that item?  Do they even realize how much interest long term they will be paying?

Please do not throw out that old saw, mathematics trains the mind.  Mathematics is no better at “training” the mind, whatever that is, than any other challenging academic pursuits.  In the name of increased rigor, we have created a rigor mortis that refuses to let us stare reality in the face and move on to a more useful math literacy.

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