Consumer math is vital to the future success of our children. Unfortunately, lack of focus on basic skills has resulted in a generation of people who never even learned the multiplication tables, much less how to figure mortgage interest. We have changed the school curriculum to match some idealistic notion that all graduates are going to college to become scientists-this is far from true. The sad fact is, not all children will be, or even want to be scientists or computer engineers. In some twisted fashion, we have determined that the national shame of not graduating enough higher technical grads in degree programs can be remedied by shoving more math down kids throats.
Our national math problem is being looked at from the top down rather than the bottom up: we no longer teach math principles in a logical sequence. In fact, we appear to have purposely taken all logic out of the equation. We are faced with high school students who don’t have a basic grounding in practical math that they can build on for the mastery of higher math. “New” math, estimate math and calculators have destined kids to math illiteracy. Only those with the most interest and best focus can follow the twisted path of supposed math learning being thrown at them before they have fully mastered the basics. Many are being left behind, that is obvious. Math cant be taught piecemeal, via quickie sound byte-it must be a logical sequence and all parts must be mastered before moving on. Much of it is NOT “fun”-as evidenced by the numbers of us who hate math and don’t feel very good at it. But, even those who did somewhat poorly used to have a grasp of the basic principles. Now, they don’t.
It should be obvious that there are many children who will never go to college. Anyone who repeats the old-and false-adage that there is money for college for every child must certainly be living on another planet. For many bright, deserving children can never gain enough in scholarship dollars to attend anything above community college-IF they can afford even that. What good does it do them, then, to learn advanced algebra or geometry or pre-calculus at the expense of consumer math-which they will eventually need regardless of their life circumstances? Not every child is college material. Those have always, throughout history been the exception rather than the rule-at least those that excelled and emerged with a true education. True, family affluence and influence can get any kid into college-and perhaps even get him through to graduate, but the truly gifted are rare. And we must stop the arrogance that insists only those who can attend and succeed in college are the only ones worth an education-an attitude that appears prevalent in government and in university educational research programs
Many, and likely the majority of these kids will be going to work at McDonalds or the car wash or some small factory or on the retail sales floor. These young adults deserve a solid grounding in the kinds of math they will encounter on a daily basis. We’re faced with high school graduates that cant make change, don’t know if their paycheck is right and cant divide to include a bi-monthly car insurance payment into a weekly budget. They can’t compute what they will be paid for time-and-a-half overtime, or envision what a percentage bonus should work out to be. They don’t have ease of competency when having to compute a general answer to a situation on the fly-and cant figure out how to pose the question to the calculator. We older adults often deal with the amazed college student who is confounded that we can get the answer on paper about as quickly as they can figure out how to enter it into their handy-dandy electronic abacus.
The basics of geometry should have been included in earlier math learning. And the basics is all the non-college bound will likely need. Every citizen needs a basic understanding of compounding interest, amortilization, balancing a checkbook, making and computing change, figuring a percentage off the top of their head. If this kind of math mastery isn’t in place by high school, then definitely it should be concentrated on before geometry becomes an issue. If colleges demand higher math skills, they need to work with the lower grades to develop workable solutions based in the great amount of educational theory and research we have paid for with our tax dollars over the years. Because most educational theory comes from the universities, they must bear responsibility for admitting something in the current early-grade curriculum is wrong-and must work to rectify it.