[nSLUG] math rant

Peter Cordes peter at llama.nslug.ns.ca
Wed Oct 22 23:59:13 ADT 2003

On Wed, Oct 22, 2003 at 08:36:01PM +0100, M Taylor wrote:
> On Wed, Oct 22, 2003 at 03:33:37PM -0300, Jeff Warnica wrote:
> > 
> > This gives me a perfect opening for my standard complaint on math and
> > math education.
> I disagree with you assertions that calculus is source of a problem
> for math education, I contest (without arguing it here) that one major
> issue is that the poor social ties we have with math, images of nerds,
> teachers of elementry students who confess that they teach young children
> because they don't like/aren't good at math themselves, and thus fail
> to lay a concrete foundation to upon, and at some point a student stumbles
> and the mass education system is unable to assist that student to help
> get them back on track, and they continue to sink, and thus end up
> hating math because they stuggle with it....

 That was my impression, too.  I think Jeff has a point that there is
interesting math that isn't getting taught because it's all arithmetic,
algebra, and calculus in grade school (and some Euclidean geometry).

> > Calculus, at least at the first year level, is a requirement for
> > graduation from just about any 'higher education' in
> > science/engineering. The only modern reason for this that I can see

 Don't forget the fact that a lot of interesting and important science (esp.
physics and engineering) depends on calculus.  You don't have to memorize
methods for integrating and differentiating a zillion different functions,
since Maple can do that.  You do need to understand how to think about rates
(differentiation) and areas under curves (integration).  If you have a bad
teacher, you can get lost in the formalism and proofs, but it is good to
understand how limits work.  Still, calculus is an essential tool for a lot
things.  I mean, Newton invented calculus in the 1600s because he needed it
to solve the physics problems he was working on, not just as an interesting
mathematical curiousity.

 You also need calculus to work out sums of some series, which is necessary
for algorithm analysis.  Even comp. sci. involves calculus.

#define X(x,y) x##y
Peter Cordes ;  e-mail: X(peter at cor , des.ca)

"The gods confound the man who first found out how to distinguish the hours!
 Confound him, too, who in this place set up a sundial, to cut and hack
 my day so wretchedly into small pieces!" -- Plautus, 200 BC

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