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October 1, 2006

What kind of math?

In the debate about convincing high school students to learn math, I haven't read much about what kind of math these students should be learning. Richard Posner makes an excellent point:

What would be socially and even economically useful would be to instruct high school students in the rudiments of statistical theory. That would help them learn to think straight about a range of public policy issues, as well as to avoid certain recurrent mistakes in everyday life. People are terrible at handling probabilities.

At the department of social studies at university, I'm glad I know some statistics and calculus, but to be honest, I don't really use my geometry. In Norway, statistics are taught at the end of the final year of high school (although probability is taught earlier) and calculus doesn't really get serious until the end of the second year. Of course this only applies if you choose the most advanced type of math - otherwise there's no calculus and statistics at all. This means that students who don't really believe they need to learn math have to wait a long time before they learn something they can use every time they open a newspaper. But by then they've quit math.

PS. To my fellow students who are taking Statistics this semester: I'm sorry. I know we love to hate this subject. But you do see my point, right? Right?

Posted by Espen at October 1, 2006 9:33 PM

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