Am I going to use calculus in real life?

Over winter break, I went a little crazy with watching TED talks relating to mathematics and education (and somewhat rarely, both). This is a really nice short one (in case you’re like me and don’t normally feel like watching a 20-minute video that some random blogger thinks is cool).

The thesis? That all of our high school math really leads to one summit: Calculus. But will most people really use calculus? Not really.

Of course, I have to insert a comment here about whether we should care if something is useful when teaching math. As a pure math person, I have to say that I don’t really care whether something I learn is useful, just interesting and beautiful.

Then again, I didn’t particularly like calculus. I know there are some beautiful ideas about the infinite and rates of change, but the way I learned it, it was anything but beautiful.

Anyway, Benjamin goes on to say that most people would benefit more from a statistics class than a calculus class. The general public’s lack of understanding of statistics is actually quite problematic; we are swayed by numbers that have little meaning coming from sources as ubiquitous as our banks, politicians, and news sources.

So would the world really be better off if the masses were forced to learn math that prepares them to better understand statistics rather than calculus? What do you think?

I like the idea of teaching more probability and statistics. I don’t really see why calculus is the holiest of holies. But if it were my way… we’d be teaching seniors advanced algebra and number theory. 😉


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