Virtually everyone would agree that the starting point of teaching math is counting. Number recognition comes next, with addition and subtraction following. By the time students are in the third grade, they should be able to perform the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) without the aid of any device. However, what should be the end-point of a high school math program?
Most high schools offer trigonometry as groundwork for advanced math such as Calculus AB or BC. Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, an expert in “math pedagogy,” recently proposed that high schools drop trigonometry courses and replace them with more probability and statistics. His reasoning included classifying trig as a tool for surveying. Of course, the selection of a particular math course directly relates to the professional path that an individual will choose. Admittedly, only a small percentage of a high school’s students choose the science and math track. However, adding more math electives at the secondary level would be more useful than reducing the courses and abolishing trigonometry altogether.
Students who wish to pursue a career in economics, engineering, or science should begin to focus their studies on calculus in high school. However, few students majoring in English, history, or the arts need to employ calculus in their daily lives. (As an English major, I fulfilled my math requirement by taking pre-calculus as a college freshman.) On the other hand, being able to analyze data can be a useful tool for non-mathematicians, particularly anyone running a household or involved in any business.
The real issue here is the importance of math literacy. Current global statistics indicate that our students are lagging far behind other developed countries in math skills. We need to address the needs all of our students and to challenge them to be their best, regardless of their career paths.