As usual, I was the house rabble-rouser at my institution today. Someone sent around a link to an article (subscription required, unfortunately) titled “Why study math?”
Reading the piece from the perspective of my inner middle-schooler, I was unimpressed. It felt to me like a rehashing of the usual vague unsubstantiated claims about transferring problem-solving skills and learning to reason. And also this:
Learning math develops stick-to-it-ness, defined as dogged perseverance or resolute tenacity, and develops perseverance, resilience, persistence, and patience. Students have opportunities to develop their work ethic in my math class by not making excuses, not blaming others, and not giving up easily.
So I wrote up my own reasons for studying math. Here they are:
I have two reasons people should study math.First is that there is a set of very practical quantitative and spatial skills that are necessary for informed participation in society. Access to these skills ought to be both a civil right and an obligation.The second is that there are many bodies of knowledge that we have agreed as a society are important; to be educated means knowing and having experienced certain things in the arts and sciences. In this way we pass on our culture.I see these reasons as being quite different from more generalized claims about reasoning and problem-solving skills. An important part of the difference is that my reasons invite conversation and debate about exactly what mathematics we should teach.