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Existential Comics makes a spirited defence of learning maths in school

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Even if the math is not useful in their lives whatsoever, I believe math is a great tool in teaching students how to think. Sadly the way math is taught often precludes this.
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Math/Physics 9-12 math teacher here.

I coordinated and designed math programming for my previous school.

*Every student's learning journey should be uniquely tailored to that student.*

We had a class for students who were new to the school where we explored math for what it more really, truly is about: open-ended problem solving using various mathematical tools.

Once they had this experience, many students realized that math is not something they enjoy, but they still want the necessary skills to interpret data, interact with scientific literature, etc. Others love the theoretical stuff and wanted to pursue higher level, more 'pure' math experiences. Others wanted to explore data, mathematical modeling, or tons of other options. The key was *this first experience was designed to get them to understand math ISN'T just solving equations*. Once we got there it was about figuring out what skills they most wanted to target.

Once we had this, we could make really awesome progress.

However, having students sit through a math experience that we justify by saying "well, these skills are still useful in learning how to think" is a bit of a copout. More importantly, time is valuable. If all this entire experience is useful for is some tangentially related thought exercise, my students would be better off working on something that's more directly useful to their goals (which will also evolve over time).

I experienced much more success with involving students in the process of determining what their goals in mathematical skill development would be. It also had a higher success rate with taking students who were already averse to math and helping them access the field in a way that was more accessible and purposeful.
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I always say that the student can ask the same question for all subjects, like when will I ever use the periodic table? How will the general relativity help me in my life? and when in the world will I use those pages of facts about amoeba and other "useless" organisms?

It's really that most of these will not be useful to anyone until they specialise.
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I do not think this is a very good argument. The„smartass kid“ is of course only making the life of the teacher even more exhausting while not providing insight on their own with their question. However, I still think they have a very important point which is missed here: Our way of teaching mathematics (beyond arithmetic and elementary geometry) in school provides next to no value to the vast majority of people. Of course a society where mathematics exists is preferable to one where it doesn’t, but whether or not there are people who are creating value for society using mathematics has nothing to do with school.

People who won’t use mathematics later in life do not even get to know what mathematics even is or how it _might_ and _does_ enrich their lives, while those who will have to figure that out on their own and can only then start to actually learn the mathematics behind the math class (on their own or in university). (I for example found mathematics classes extremely boring and later on even infuriating for having to see how the beautiful algebra and analysis was taught to other students.)

Of course, I firmly believe it is _possible_ (and important!) to make mathematics classes a reality where the teacher is in fact correct, where the teaching of mathematics actually provides insight for everyone, regardless of application, while also making aware of the power it has for applications. In such a world, the question raised by our kid here is then a way for the teacher to know that this goal was not achieved for all students in class yet. Ideally, then, the teacher would not react in a condescending way to the question, but instead embrace that there are applications (of course, it’s the area of a triangle!) but also that there need not be a direct application situation for the lesson, if listened to, to be valuable.
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In defense of the smartass kid asking what the purpose of learning math in school is, I personally found the way math was taught to me in school to be monotonous if not a complete waste of time. There seems to be an emphasis in drilling results that seemed to someone long ago useful for calculus, not all of which are particularly useful even in math. I recently graduated with a major in math and to this day I have not had to recall shit like the law of sines since 10th grade. If math curricula were designed by math professors to actually educate kids on math and not to prepare for some standardized test, and math classes were all taught by enthusiastic, qualified staff (I was lucky enough to have access the latter, but not the former---I had decent teachers giving me a bad curriculum) then kids might be more engaged and you might get fewer of those questions. Until then, I'm team "why are we learning this" for school-level math tbh.
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I think any good teacher makes you feel like what you are learning is important. Every piece of knowledge out there was discovered or created for a reason. So if you feel like it's pointless it's likely your teacher doesn't understand it or doesn't know how to transmit it
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On the first day of the school year, I tell my students, "this is *not* a math class; it's a *problem-solving* class."

(It just happens that we use a lot of math in the types of problems we solve.)
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Equilateral\*
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That's about as good an argument for teaching everyone maths as it is for teaching everyone welding. Would I rather live in a world where no one knew how to weld? Fuck no. But do we need to teach every single school student how to weld? Of course not; it's a specialist skill that only a small minority of people need to learn for society to function. But that's basically the same status as maths in the workplace; only a relatively small minority of the population need to know anything beyond basic arithmetic. So it's not unreasonable for a student to ask why everyone has to learn all this maths they probably won't use. But I absolutely think there are a million really good answers to that question that aren't this boring, tired, condescending "uhh because you're a frickin dumb dumb" type of answer.
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No math =

- Poor risk calculations about whether to buy v rent
- Which mortgage or loan deal is best
- Whether grocery specials are worth it
- Whether to buy lease vehicle
- Budgeting
- Investing
- Whether to get vaccinated


I’m willing to bet that if you take a sample of 1000 random people with above median earnings and 1000 random people below median earnings, the above median earnings will be significantly better at math than the below median group.

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