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Old 06-11-2019, 02:32 PM
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Eonwe is offline
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Join Date: May 2000
Location: Burlington VT
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Originally Posted by Lancia View Post
I teach math in an Adult Ed program for our local community college. Basically, I teach GED prep courses for adults who had dropped out of high school at some point and now want to get their HSE.

Here’s my take on it. The U.S. education system is designed so that everyone leaving high school should, theoretically, be ready for either the workforce or college. However, most of the math that high school students have to learn have no “real-world” applications to speak of. Many can factor a polynomial or balance an equation—basic pre-algebra stuff—but don’t know the first thing about balancing their checkbook. They have no idea what FICA withholding is, how insurance premiums and deductibles work, or how to calculate intertest of any type—from basic compound interest to the actual money going out of pocket on a home or car loan with x% interest.

Now math, clearly, isn’t pointless. It not only teaches students actual math but it also hones critical thinking skills and helps them practice thinking “outside the box” a bit, as well as how to tackle problems systematically.

Having said that… yes, I think most high school students have too much math on their plate. Or perhaps I should say, they have the wrong kind of math. Making high school students take something like trig is pointless unless that student plans on going into a math-intensive field like engineering or chemistry. Hell, I took trig in college, I teach math, and have never used trig once since the day I took my trig final in 2013. Is it useful? Of course. Should it be mandatory? Never.

My students have to learn polynomials, functions, logarithms, linear and quadradic equations… there’s quite a list. But most (all, probably, unless we specifically teach it in class) don’t know how to balance their checkbook.

So I think high school math curriculums need to be completely axed and re-created from scratch using real-world math concepts and teaching students what they need to know to actually function in society. If they need calculus or trigonometry for their career, they can learn it in college. Take out that mandatory pre-calc class and add in a "how to compute and file your taxes" class. The 2014 revision to the GED test took a couple steps in that direction, but did not go nearly far enough IMO.
Echoing Kimstu here, but the problem with the argument that we need more "real world" math is that the reason why most people struggle with those real world examples (taxes, balancing books, understanding loans/mortgages/hospital bills etc) is not because they require difficult math, but because they require sophisticated problem solving, excellent language skills, and complex understanding of many moving parts that are in a constant state of change, and may require active management of many different communication streams.

I'm a "smart" guy who took all the advanced math classes in high school and did some more advanced calc in college. Doing taxes or managing my medical bills is complicated and difficult not because I can't do the math, but because the systems are not designed to be user-friendly, are ever-changing, and are in fact developed to meet the needs on the entities administering them and not the needs of the end user.

Also, I have to ask, with no snark intended, is trig really required or is that just a made-up statement? In my experience, which I concede is now 20+ years out of date, trig was only "required" if you were in an advanced, college-placement math track. In which case we're not talking about general education at all.