In most high schools, juniors planning on attending college take Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus in preparation for standardized college admissions test (ACT or SAT). Seniors planning on going to college take Calculus. However, is this really necessary? While it is true that students majoring in Business, Science, and certainly Mathematics, will need to study Calculus in college, not everyone who goes to college needs to know Calculus. In fact, I could even make a case that most business majors will never even need it.
Quite honestly, Math education at both the high school and college levels would benefit from an overhaul. If subjects such as Algebra were taught earlier, such as 7th grade, those wishing to pursue degrees high dependent upon Math, especially Calculus, in college would be able to have a better grasp of Calculus before they even leave high school. It would work like this: 7th Grade – Algebra, 8th Grade – Advanced Algebra, 9th Grade – Geometry, 10th Grade – Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus, 11th Grade – Calculus, 12th Grade – Preparation for College Calculus. College freshmen pursuing degrees in Math, Science, Engineering, and Technology would then have an easier time adjusting to college-level Math courses.
High school students not planning on pursuing additional education in the areas of Math, Science, Engineering, or Technology would be able to decide for themselves whether or not to take Math courses the last two years of high school, or even the last three years of high school. Quite honestly, other than taking standardized test for college admission – the ACT and SAT – the courses would be of little value to those not seeking those degrees.
In fact, parents and teachers are familiar with that very question: When am I going to need this? As a teenager, I firmly believed that I would use Advanced Math (beyond Advanced Algebra) somewhere along the line as I pursed a business degree and a career. In truth, I was wrong. As I was able to pass the Advanced Placement Calculus exam, I didn’t need to take a Calculus course at Michigan State. In fact, the courses that I did take that required Math, including Economics, Statistics, etc, involved Math below Advanced Algebra. Quite frankly, I was wrong. You really don’t use Advanced Math that often. While it is true that that question is largely asked with regards to Algebra and Geometry, which are among the most useful Math skills/subjects around, kids are correct to question to the usefulness of Calculus.
So next time your children or students ask you whether or not they’ll ever use Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus in the real world, tell them the truth. More than likely, they’ll just need it to get accepted to the college of their choice, and then maybe in one course during their college career. That’s it! That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t encourage students to pursue degrees in Math, Science, and Engineering. In fact, we should actively encourage it. It is just that we need recognize as a society that not everyone needs to study the highest forms of Math.