The Case for Less Math

It’s been awhile since I stirred the hornets nest, but an article I read this morning has me FIRED UP, so here it goes.

I believe most students in America should take less math.
This morning an article in the New York Times discussing a decline in math scores published five sample questions from the Algebra 1 section of the New York State Regents exam. I have copied one of the questions below.
The graph of f(x) is shown below. Which function could represent the graph of f(x)?
Interesting Image

a)    f(x) = (x+2) (x2 + 3x - 4)
b)    f(x) = (x-2) (x2 + 3x - 4)
c)    f(x) = (x+2) (x2 + 3x + 4)
d)    f(x) = (x-2) (x2 + 3x +4)

* spoiler alert: The answer is at the bottom of the newsletter  

Did you get the right answer? If so, good for you! I didn’t, and frankly I’m not surprised. Math and I have had an Ike and Tina Turner type relationship for years.

You should know that I am 48 years old, have a couple of college degrees and have owned my own business for over a decade. All of this is to say that barring any unforeseen radical turns in my life (such as suddenly deciding to become an astrophysicist), I have a pretty good understanding of the amount of math needed and used to be successful in my endeavors. Having said that, I have never needed the skill sets required to solve the problem listed above. In other words, I took too much math in high school.

We keep hearing, "In order to maintain competitiveness in a global economy, we need more science, math and technology.” but with the confines of time (scheduling), testing, and costs, we have had to establish a hierarchy of learning that leaves me very uncomfortable regarding the expectations it sets and the message it delivers. I am not saying math isn’t important. I think math is important. In fact, very important.

  • I think math teaches analytical thought processes.
  • I think we need mathematicians and scientists in our society to be successful.
  • I think math is an appropriate and important bench mark for learning.
  • I want our scientists and mathematicians to be the best educated people on the planet.


When did we decide every child needs to know advanced math to be successful in life?
When did we decide that math should be a primary benchmark of success for every child?
When did we decide that math would be the key analytic for determining national success?

In short, when did we decide that every child needs to be successful at math to be successful in life?

When did this happen? Was there a vote that I missed? Was there a national consensus reached of which I was not a part? Was there a ground breaking study show math = a life time of success and happiness? (See what I did there with the equal thingy?) No one asked me what I thought and if they had, I would have told them that I also think music is important, in fact very important.
I think music teaches individual and group analytical thinking processes that aren’t taught anywhere else during the school day.

  • I think music, by virtue of its curricula and culture, gives every child a greater chance at happiness and success for the rest of their lives.
  • I think in-school music, being somewhat unique to America, should be a benchmark in determining national success in education.
  • I think music expands the creative minds and allows for a more balanced human being.

As I said, I would like students to be required to takes less math and more music. Not "zero math and all music," just "less math and more music." And, there is plenty of evidence that supports my theory.
Math is about absolute facts and provable truths. So, if I provide a bevy of information and data that prove that music, beyond it’s value as an aesthetic art form, makes every child more successful at just about everything they do, both in and out of school, why doesn't music join math on the pantheon of academic necessities and requirements?

This is a word problem I am having trouble solving... but then again, I’m not good at math.