On his Uncertain Principles blog, Chad Orzel provides an interesting look at the problem of our culture's math illiteracy in The Innumeracy of Intellectuals. Professor Orzel's essential point is that people are generally ashamed of a lack of knowledge about art or culture, but can have a sense of pride about their lack of mathematical knowledge.
Epsilonica has this post: Lockhart, Jenkins and compulsory maths in which he writes about how he wishes he had been taught math. Reading his post, I made the following observations...
1. We are constantly bombarded by information and much of it requires some analysis. Sometimes, we need a solid grasp of logic, and at other times, we need to understand some basic statistics or probability. Math helps us make sense of many situations.
2. Math is a great problem-solving tool. The more math you know, the more ways you can see that it can be helpful as a way to model real-world situations.
3. Math is beautiful.
Point 1's implications: I think everyone needs basic knowledge of algebra, probability, and statistics. That's it. No calculus. No trigonometry. Nothing too fancy.
Points 2 & 3's implications: These are a bit trickier. You need teachers who really have used math and teachers who are passionate about math's beauty. Neither of these is a slam dunk. In my experience, most math teachers are academics who have lived their entire lives in schools. Some of them really love math, but most have never really used math to solve real problems in the real world to make a living. Not every teacher needs to have earned a living with math, but I think most schools would benefit from a broader mix of backgrounds. Some academics, some turbo geeks, and some practical mathematicians should be in every math department from high school on down to at least middle school.
Here on the thinktanK¹² blog, I will share some of my thoughts about math education and show you how I approach the creation of our math content. I’ll complain about elementary school math, arbitrary timelines for learning algebra, and the inflated importance of calculus courses some other time. Those are topics unto themselves. Stay tuned!