Thursday, August 25, 2005

Prerequisite: high school math

I put this line in my 1111 syllabus every semester and have never paid a thought to it until last spring. It is in fact the only level of math we assume of our 1111 students.

One of my students approached me after class, pointing to this line to his copy of the syllabus.
"This is a joke, right?" He said.
" 'Cause everybody here [on this campus] must have taken math back in high school."
"I am not saying we only require that all students must have taken high school math before they can take 1111. We assume that they still remember much of their high school math before taking 1111." I thought for a while and responded defensively. That I think is a lot to assume.

The other day, I walked pass the midtown Kmart and saw their back-2-school ad. They put an equation, x^2=x-1, in one of the pictures. I solved it in my head as I walked towards the subway and realized that Kmart probably didn't know that this equation did not have rational numerical solutions. Then I thought: "this is legitimately high school math, but I am not sure whether all my 1111 students can solve it." Not that I care since they will not need to do such thing in my class.

It made me think about all those things we have learned in high school and never used. Is it a bad thing that we have forgoten much of it? Why should we study things we are not going to use? Just simply because we don't know what we are going to need in the future, we have to study a comprehensive foundation? Is this the only reason? Or is it healthier to keep one's brain busy at different things when one is young? Or is it healthier to have something to dump when one is getting older? Maybe, all those things we have learned and have no use for are some kind of placeholders for our future acquisitions? This is a wild thought. :)


a flying pig said...

We have been learning, from elementary school until now, to pursue a PH.D. degree. If we get a specific job, say, an accountant, rather than engage in academic research after graduation, then only high school mathematics is enough for it. As time passes, our brain will get rusted if we deal with simple things all day long. I think the meaning of learning is to enable us to think and to keep an active mind toward this changing world.

Anonymous said...

Marcuse once said that we apply rational thought to our work, but then abandon the application of such rational discourse to our lives.

A high school student asked me how much I make as a science PhD, did the math, and promptly decided that he was going to find a different profession.

They should teach salaries, lengths of study for degrees, and expectations of hourly workweeks in math class.

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