Over the last week or so I have weighed whether or not to post a small rant. I have decided that I should say something about education...STEM education in particular. For those who don't keep up with the thousands of acronyms that float around us all the time STEM stands for "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math". As you might guess this is an area of great interest to me as president of a business that depends upon technical talent for growth.
The catalyst for this rant was a conversation with a mathematics professor at a local community college. It seems that this professor was named to a committee whose mission was to find ways to increase the "success rate" of the math department at her campus. The issue at hand was money. Funding for the college is linked to the number of students who "pass" the courses. I am sure that you can guess what the college administration wants to see..."adjust" the testing standards to allow more students to pass. It seems that under that "recommendation" a student who scores only a 67 on a basic math test will be awarded a "C". My guess is that if this does not produce the desired "success rate" then the bar will be lowered again. Is this really the right direction for education...especially at the college level?
To add fuel to my internal fire the state legislature has decided that Algebra 2 is too difficult for high school students so they have voted to have it dropped from the graduation requirements. What? Haven't the news media talking heads spread the message that we need STEM students and that our country is falling behind others in those key areas of study?
One argument that I have heard is that students no longer need as much math because they have computers to solve problems for them. Well, where did the computers come from? Who wrote the software that allows the computers to reach the conclusions that these students will depend upon?
I have also heard that students who have no intention of going into engineering or science should not be saddled with learning as much math. Those students who intend to go into STEM fields can get their math at the college level (where they can pass more easily so that the school can get funding). But that thinking misses one of the intrinsic values of a math education...the ability to think logically and develop critical thinking skills.
A journalism major, an art major, a liberal arts major will all want a job at some point. Whether they are writing an article, creating appealing art, or curating a museum collection the ability to clearly communicate is paramount to success. And clear communication requires logical thinking skills that a solid math education will instill in any person.
Is math "hard"? Yes, for some people but that does not mean it should be avoided. Remember, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger...and taking math hasn't killed anyone that I know.