Math with a (different?) purpose

From the New York Times, an op-ed on math education.

The argument I often hear against the kind of pragmatic approach advocated by these authors is that education isn’t just for getting a job.  We want it to do that, for the most part, but most parents I talk to are hesitant to let it do only that. As a culture we hold a long-standing commitment to having our young be instructed in a predictable and consistent body of knowledge and skill so that they seem learn-ed by the end of it.  (Never mind that enough time has passed now that there is so much history, so much literature, so much math, so much art, so much science that there’s no longer any such body that children can possibly receive in 13 years of mandatory instruction.)  We’re attached to our model of academic schooling (whether or not we send our children to school) not because we’ve carefully considered it and concluded that it serves our children best but because it’s a habit of the social structure we want our children to be part of.  If we weren’t in the habit of it, we’d look at who our children are, as individuals and as a generation living in the world they do, and we’d see the need for something evolving and distinct from what we’ve always done.

The approach outlined in the op-ed sounds much more appealing to me than what we’ve got now, and much more likely to capture the attention and efforts of its intended recipients.  But it will take more than reason and pragmatics to loosen our collective grip on the traditional course of study.  We’ll have to want to let it go, too.  We’ll have to trust that we can create something just as good, just as respectable and interesting and worthy of our energies.

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