Today, I watched the TEDx talk by John Bennett who advocates that we should stop teaching math to middle and high school students. I find it great if people make controversial claims and defend them argumentatively. And indeed, there seems to be a problem with how math is taught in school, given the infamous “math anxiety” that Bennett is alluding to. Yet, I strongly disagree with Bennett’s conclusion.
In his talk, he tells us that at some point he realized that 99% of the American population don’t need math. Therefore, you shouldn’t teach math to them. He also rejects the argument that you need math in school at least to get a high SAT score - which is important for getting a good job. He aims to disprove this argument by citing Alfie Kohn with the following quote:
The SAT is a measure of resources more than of reasoning. Year after year, College Board’s own statics depict a virtually linear correlation between SAT scores and family income.”
Whether or not you buy the argument, my question is: how are you going to understand this argument and this quote, if you don’t know what a linear correlation is - which you only get with a basic education in higher math? Even worse, how are you going to understand other claims based on correlations unless you understand the relationship between correlation and causation? Are you going to understand that any argument based on a single correlation is prone to be false?
There is a deeper point that I want to make here. In my opinion, Bennett misconceives education as preparation for professional life. Of course, if you are not becoming an engineer, you might never see an integral sign again in your life. However, education is a preparation for being a member of the society - you should be able to critically read the newspaper, question claims and lines of argumentation, which are nowadays often backed up by some sort of statistics. And sound argumentation, sharp thinking and - obviously - statistics are at the very core of math. All of this is required because you have the right to vote for your leaders - if you are well-informed and able to make up your own opinion on valid logical ground, you are less likely to fall for populists and propaganda.
I do agree that my math curriculum did not do a great job at teaching me all of the this - but it should. We most definitely should change the way math is taught, and there are various ideas of doing so (I have some thoughts about what is going wrong in university courses, and some people have ideas on how to fix them). However, dropping maths from the curriculum does not sound like a viable solution to me. The number of people supporting clowns like Donald Trump shows that we have an education problem. Let’s try to make education better, and let’s make teaching better math part of this endeavour.