Andrew Hacker's 2012 New York Times op-ed questioning the requirement of advanced mathematics in our schools instantly became one of the paper's most widely circulated articles. Why, he wondered, do we inflict a full menu of mathematics on all young Americans, regardless of their interests or aptitudes?
The Math Myth expands Hacker's scrutiny of many widely held assumptions, like the notions that mathematics broadens our minds and that the entire Common Core syllabus should be required of every student. He worries that a frenzied emphasis on STEM is diverting attention from other pursuits and subverting the spirit of the country. In fact, Hacker honors mathematics as a calling (he has been a professor of mathematics) and extols its glories and its goals. Yet he shows how mandating it for everyone prevents other talents from being developed and acts as an irrational barrier to graduation and careers. He proposes alternatives, including teaching facility with figures, quantitative reasoning, and understanding statistics.
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I am an avid eclectic reader.
Hacker has an interesting hypothesis. He wants to change the instruction of mathematics in school. In fact he wants to emphasize arithmetic and have mathematics for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students. As a person who struggled in arithmetic but excelled in mathematics I find this interesting. Hacker claims math is the cause of many high school and college drop outs. He claims calculus is never used by the majority of people after leaving school.
As a scientist I had some problems with Hacker’s argument. I read the book because on some points I agree with Hacker. I have a problem with his unreferenced claims and he played games with his statistics to make them deliberately misleading. I think Hacker is correct that we should not try to follow the lead of Asia on rote learning. The United States in the 18th and 19th century lead the world with innovative education; we in fact educated all children not just those of the wealthy. We need to sit down and rethink education completely. I agree with Hacker that we need to teach more analytical and strategic thinking, encourage creativity and teach people to think out of the box. Hacker states that with the over emphasis on math we have segregated social science and the humanities to a place of lesser value. I have seen this happen and it needs to be corrected as these fields are of equal value to science, math and engineering. Hacker states we need to include in the regular course work art and music as both also use math and arithmetic skills and teach creativity. Hacker also recommends that arithmetic and math skills be taught to the level and job requirements rather than everyone in high school having to learn trig and calculus. He provides the example of a person unable to enroll in a cosmetology course because she failed algebra in high school.
To me education is providing an introduction of a wide range of topics, information and subjects in a stimulating and exciting way to grab the student’s interest and imagination to want to learn more. If one grabs the attention of a student in a topic so they want to make a career in that field, then that is success. I think more time and money should be spent on educating better math teachers and improving or creating better ways to teach math and arithmetic.
Barry Press does a good job narrating the book. Press is an actor that also narrates audiobooks.
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