Elitism around math reflects flawed education priorities

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The standardized method of teaching math and the overbearing importance placed on the subject begs a re-evaluation of how we prioritize subjects in the education system at large.

A recent opinion article in The Tyee questions math’s privileged status within education, asking whether or not the subject remains relevant for all students heading into university.   

Math is often proclaimed as one of the most crucial areas of study, particularly in high school—more so than languages and arts.

This mentality is bolstered in the university environment; students graduating from high school without advanced math credits are limited in what programs they can apply for. If students want to change paths, they often must go back to high school and get those credits rather than be caught up by their institution.

There’s good reason for promoting the importance of math—it teaches students analytic and problem-solving skills, and arithmetic is an important part of everyday life. However, math concepts are often taught without context. As a result, many students grow disenfranchised with the subject.

Worse, math’s intimidating reputation can make students not immediately gifted at the subject feel as if they’re not cut out for that kind of learning.

Often, math’s reputation as a difficult subject overshadows the value of the learning process itself. Advanced math topics like calculus may not crop up much in the ‘real world,’ but studying them teaches important life skills.

Achieving success in something that doesn’t come easily fosters perseverance and self-confidence. The spotlight on math must shift from its daunting reputation to the learned soft skills that students can apply everywhere in their postsecondary ventures.

This problem affects other subjects as well.

Art majors and non-science options are often undervalued, and a distinct divide exists between differing university majors. The resulting barriers place students into categories, making some ‘well-suited’ only to a certain subject. As a result, success is mostly associated with only a few specific pathways.

To break this image, universities must provide a knowledge base diverse enough to inspire understanding and interest in all subjects.

Faculty should aim to build students’ confidence in the decisions they make for their future. The idea of success being possible only through math and Science should be applied to every topic of study. All courses and options should be valued.

Math shouldn’t be a mandatory pathway, but a pathway easily accessible to those who wish to take it. Universities must culture this environment, beginning with dismantling the elitism around the subject.

—Journal Editorial Board

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