As tempting as it is to say that calculus should be made mandatory in high schools, it is not practical in the least.
My high school had two calculus classes: both first and second semester college-level calculus. It covered everything from differentiation and integration to polar and vector calculus and series and sequences. Though we were a relatively small school, those classes were packed. I know other high schools have a more rigorous math curriculum than we had.
Calculus can be applied to nearly anything. In class, gone are the days where pages of “factor the following” are passed out like stale bread. Kids take it reluctantly, and daily they prod, “When are we ever going to use this?” Though I enjoy math and am currently pursuing a degree in it, I remember sitting at my desk- our so-called “prison cells”, asking that very question along with the rest of my class. Calculus finally brought reason to the chaos, and it was something that easily was applied to statistics, business, chemistry, physics, and a multitude of other subjects.
I would like nothing more than to demand that it be mandatory in high school.
However, it is by no means practical. No Child Left Behind attempted for all students to pass certain requirements, which means over time, it became easier and easier as students were unable to keep up. Those with special needs need to focus on what is best for them, meaning that calculus should not be required as long as they are struggling with more basic tasks and subjects. The students that are able to challenge themselves should be doing so, which unfortunately is not often the case. Growing up with a friend that has struggled with school (a just-below-average student) has shown me that some students are sincerely unable to perform at a state-determined level. Perhaps in a few years with enough motivation, she would be able to succeed at normal levels, but not in the time span that the state has required of her.
At this point, there are multiple options: require of all, require of some, or require of none.
All is clearly an impossibility. As much hope as I would like to provide, there are students that would be in high school for at least three extra years. If we can barely pay for new textbooks, desks, and school supplies, how should we expect to pay teachers and (if applicable) tutors extra? I have seen personally that many students choose to drop out rather than to stay a few years. Whether a higher dropout rate or a lower graduation standard is better, well, that is another debate on its own.
Requiring of some invites corruption. Depending on how strictly it is enforced on whatever cut-offs, it might be easy for students to slack off in order to not be forced to take calculus. Students that should not take calculus may end up being pushed through it, and I expect many who would be capable of taking it would not have to.
Besides, math for many is not interesting as it is, and as we all know from experience, forcing anyone to do anything will not cultivate an appreciation for the subject as much as pure interest will. It can also discourage the students who want to learn by placing disinterested students in a class that might otherwise be capable of learning the material at a faster pace. Discouraged intelligent students perform at lower levels and lose morale (some may say differently- I only speak from experience), which will bring down those that did not want to be there in the first place. Grades of the average students would drop in higher-level math, which in turn could jeopardize students’ chances at college.
I know too many people who loved reading until school-enforced book swallowing and regurgitation shot their passions dead. Let’s not let calculus be next.