Response To The Mathematical Association Of America: The Importance Of Mathematics

The Mathematical Association of America is considering removing calculus from the high school curriculum. The Association asked to hear from the community at large on whether not people agreed with this decision. In response, many proper mathematicians provided a variety of well-thought answers — both supporting the decisions and cautioning against deleting calculus from high school curriculum.

I, as typical, have a completely independent view on the potential decision, which I would like to share below. 

There are a lot of things wrong with the way we teach math that need to be fixed.  I hope to write a book on it some day.  In short, those who truly understand are few and feel the curriculum is MUCH too slow.  Those who do not understand are lost on basic concepts in the first or second grade and then nothing makes sense, and anything taught later, regardless of how slow, seems too fast.  The students just parrot ideas without really understanding them—so if they memorize certain motions, as in a dance, they can get great grades but not really know anything.  

Adding or deleting any course, such as calculus will not solve anything. Instead we need to revise the entire system from the bottom up.  For those few who do understand, all of math through the sixth grade can easily be taught in one or two years, 7th and 8th grade math can easily be taught in one year (say the third grade), and in the fourth grade we should start teaching what we mistakenly call high school math.  For these students, we should not teach calculus in high school, but in the sixth grade.  For those who do not understand math well, we should never teach calculus.  But our goal is to make everyone understand.  

Using a method I developed to teach addition and subtraction of signed numbers, one of my students who was a teacher taught it in kindergarten–that’s right kindergarten!  And EVERY student could add and subtract signed numbers without any errors.  All problems given were solved 100% correctly by 100% of the students after just one week of instruction. Yet signed numbers are generally taught in junior high school for months, and even then, most students do not understand the concepts well.  The solution to our math problems educationally is NOT in changing the curriculum but in making RADICAL changes in the way math is presented, starting in kindergarten.