A view from USA: "Why can't we teach math?"

From a post  The School CEO: Why can’t we teach math? by  Jeanne Whitmore in American Fork Citizen, 29 September 2012:

I had a parent ask me why we don’t teach Compass and Straight edge Geometry anymore. Thank goodness he gave me a link to the Wikipedia article to explain what it is. (Here it is if you are interested.) I would love to explain to him why we don’t teach this particular type of geometry, but I don’t know. I couldn’t teach it; I don’t know if I could learn it.

But why could we teach it at one point, and we can’t now? As a Charter School CEO, it is difficult to get math and science teachers. Math and science teachers can make a lot of money in the private sector and schools have difficulty competing.

Mathematicians can earn a median wage of $99,000 and people in Math and Science occupations earn a median income of $74,040. It’s no surprise that people with Math backgrounds don’t want to earn a starting salary of less than $30,000 per year at an elementary school or high school. Granted there are teachers who only desire to teach and love the atmosphere of the school, but these are few and far between. A school would be lucky to get a great mathematician who

has already retired from a non-education career then decided to teach as a second career.

But, let’s assume that mathematicians have always earned a much higher income than the general population. Why was it possible to hire a mathematician in the 40’s and 50’s, but not now? Well, the jobs that can use mathematics have exploded. Whole classes of occupations didn’t exist in the 40’s that exist now.

Look at this list of occupations: Actuary, Computer programmers, Computer Systems Analyst, Database Administrators, Financial Analyst, Market Research Analyst, Nuclear Engineer, Operations Research Analyst, Statistician and Survey Researcher. Many of these classes of jobs didn’t exist in the 40’s and even if they did exist, the computer revolution and Internet have enabled massive data collection that have increased the number of jobs in every field related to data analysis and statistics.

A research paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research in 1957 showed that 87.4% of mathematicians worked in colleges and universities. Now, only 16% work in education with 63% working in the Federal Government and Scientific Research.

We can’t compete with the increasing demand for mathematicians from the private sector in salaries, benefits or work environment. But, if we can’t teach math in elementary and high school to the same standards we did in the 40’s and 50’s where will our next generation of mathematicians come from?

It is almost like the worm eating its own tail. We are chewing up the mathematicians we created in previous generations and we are not creating the new generations of mathematicians to take their place.

Today we can’t have a math teacher teach “Compass and Straight edge Geometry” because they were not taught that by their teachers.

Jeanne Whitmore is the founder and CEO of American Fork charter school Aristotle Academy, and an education columnist for the American Fork Citizen. Here is the document cited in the post: Study of math profession occupations, 1957.

 

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