Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Study Geometry?

Here's an interesting comment I just read:
Younger people may not have taken a geometry class. The subject was reclassified as optionl some years go in the mistaken belief that it was no longer sufficiently relevant to tody's world, a view that demonstrates the ignorance of many of the people who make such decisions. Although it is true that hardly anyone ever makes direct use of geometrical knowledge, it was the only class int he high school curriculum that exposed children to the important concept of formal reasoning and mathematical proof. 
Exposure to formal mathemtical thinking is important for at least two reasons. First, a citizen in today's mathematically based world should have at least a general sense of one of the major contributors to society. Second, a survey carried out by the U.S. Department of Education in 1997 (the Riley Report) showed that students who completed high school geometry performed markedly better in gaining entry to college and did better when at college than those students who had not taken such a course, regardless of the subjects studied at college. As the survey organizers pointed out, the major factor was not how well the students do in such a course. Merely completing it gives them a tremendous advantage in all their other courses.
Keith Devlin, The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. ___, note 2 (italics are in the original; the large font is my emphasis).

That led me to a speech by then Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, The State of Mathematics Education: Building a Strong Foundation for the 21st Century, Notices of the AMS, vol. 45, p. 487, April 1998. A couple of key paragraphs:
[A]lmost 90 percent of new jobs require more than a high school level of literacy and math skills. An entry- level automobile worker, for instance, according to an industry-wide standard, needs to be able to apply formulas from algebra and physics to properly wire the electrical circuits of a car. Indeed, almost every job today increasingly demands a combination of theoretical knowledge and skills that require learning throughout a lifetime. 
That is why it is so important that we make sure that all students master the traditional basics of arithmetic early on as well as the more challenging courses that will prepare them to take physics, statistics, and calculus in much larger numbers in high school and college.
A recent U.S. Department of Education report demonstrates that a challenging mathematics education can build real opportunities for students who might not otherwise have them. 
It found, for example, that young people who have taken gateway courses like Algebra I and Geometry go on to college at much higher rates than those who do not—83 percent to 36 percent. The difference is particularly stark for low-income students. These students are almost three times as likely—71 percent versus 27 percent—to attend college. 
In fact, taking the tough courses, including challenging mathematics, is a more important factor in determining college attendance than is either a student’s family background or income.
And here's a final point to ponder:
There is a disconnect about mathematics in this country. A recent Harris poll revealed that while more than 90 percent of parents expect their children to go to college and almost 90 percent of kids want to go to college, fully half of those kids want to drop mathematics as soon as they can.

No comments:

Post a Comment