Walter E. Williams: To compete globally, American students must learn to do math

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  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    Feb. 23, 2012 10:31 p.m.

    One problem with learning math is that it takes work and practice. Kids don't want to do homework, heck most parents don't want kids to have homework.

    Most high schools have block scheduling. This means students see their math teacher every other day, unless they are absent or there is a holiday or an assembly or whatever then they might not see their math teacher for several days. This isn't good. Also, with the block schedule, real instructional time is lost whether the educrats want to admit or not. No teacher is going to lecture 90 minutes straight to make up for lost time.

    I know there has been a lot of discussion over math curriculum (Singapore, Common Core, Investigations or whatever), but the what school is structured and the inability of students to generally put in the disciplined effort to learn and apply math, don't expect things to get any better but expect more stories like this.

  • Hutterite American Fork, UT
    Feb. 23, 2012 5:46 p.m.

    I ask because, well, williams tends to write articles favourable to a utah audience. And in utah, and indeed across the nation, sports tend to have the highest esteem in any educational institution. We just don't value education. In fact, as one post pointed out, mathematics promotes rational thought. From my observation, rational thought is becoming marginalised in our society. So, when williams came out on the side of rational thought and science instead of blaming government and media and chinese fiscal policy, I was surprised. So, somewhat with sarcasm, I pointed out that if williams wanted to write to his audience, he should have supported the cool sports instead of the nerdy rational stuff. I saw his position out of character. That's why I asked.

  • pragmatistferlife salt lake city, utah
    Feb. 23, 2012 8:57 a.m.

    A lot of good comments here. Just want to add that the benefits of math are many, but once you get beyond the basics the beauty of math is that it teaches you that the world is not linear. It's not either this or that. It's maybe this, if that, or possibly that, if this. That's how the world actually works.

    America could really use of dose of that reality at present.

  • Nate Pleasant Grove, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 11:40 p.m.

    @Hutterite "He did mean to say basketball, didn't he?"

    Of course. Why do you ask?

  • Hutterite American Fork, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 9:08 p.m.

    He did mean to say basketball, didn't he?

  • Joe Schmoe Orem, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 7:42 p.m.

    7% of American students perform at an advanced level in math?

    That number is higher in Utah.

    At any rate, less than 7% of the available jobs require advanced math so I'd say we are just about on target.

    This fascination with math boggles my mind. The math teachers have done a tremendous job with making math important in the minds of the public but the fact of the matter is 90% of the people don't need math beyond basic algebra.

    In the US, those that need it, get it.

    This is coming from the parent of two future engineers.

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Feb. 22, 2012 4:35 p.m.


    "I remember her writing out addition sums on the sidewalk with chalk and then solving them. Then she went to school and suffered a regression in math and in English."

    I've seen that with my children and grandchildren. For whatever my opinion is worth, children are spending too much time in school and are denied their childhood. They need time of their own to explore, observe, and build curiosity. They'll do this naturally. Forty hours a week being micro managed, and held accountable to some test score isn't cutting it. We're teaching kids to dislike school.

    If our present school system existed in the 1800's, we wouldn't have the light bulb, and the Wright Brothers wouldn't have the time inventing an airplane.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    Feb. 22, 2012 12:45 p.m.

    Do schools in Utah differentiate in math classes? Our former school district on the east coast, tested and then differentiated students for math class starting in elementary school. I don't know if research has shown this to be effective, but I would think it could benefit the lowest performers and the highest performers, while be a neutral factor for those in the middle.

  • Esquire Springville, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 12:18 p.m.

    Wow, I actually agree with old Walt. How did that happen?

    So are we willing to invest in the education system to address this issue? Are we willing to make the cultural changes necessary? Are families going to step up, or will they continue to take the path of least resistance, seek entertainment first, and ignore the realities that will affect the future?

  • Blue Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 10:32 a.m.

    So are you going to just sqwawk about it, or will you finally stop re-electing the guys who consistently force us to have the lowest funding per pupil and the most crowded classrooms in the nation?

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 9:31 a.m.

    Have you taken a look at any of the high school math books lately? Of course that is assuming you child even gets to have a math book. My son took a physics class in high school with no book! The class was a joke. I had to use my old college books to teach him with. American Idol is more important than math anyway -right?

  • E & EE PROVO, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 9:28 a.m.

    @ VST:

    If you're interpreting that quote to mean that Einstein was bad at math, you have been misled. Google it and you'll see that he actually excelled in math his entire life. If that was not your interpretation, then I apologize.

    @ Lagomorph:

    I completely agree! I wish it wasn't just a fantasy though. It is a shame that Americans are dismal at math when it is so necessary.

  • LDS Liberal Farmington, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 9:22 a.m.

    The problem is motivation.
    And Capitalism motives via $$$

    Mathmatics/Engineering/Science does pay jack-squat.

    Kids see their iPhones, SmartPhones, and the Mark Zukerbergs of Facebook making $Billions and want nothing to do with Math and Science.

    Why bust your butt for 18-20 years going to school, racking up a $50,000 Student Loan, only to get out making $15-$20 an hour?

    The bottom line --
    American Capitalism -- you get what you pay for.

    Perhaps you'd be better off studying Mandarin or Cantonese.
    That's where the jobs went.

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 9:21 a.m.

    Balancing a household budget; the advantages (good investments) and disadvantages (mortgages etc) of compound interest applied to individuals not in banking; making change without a computer; prioritizing expenditures; the cost of a car on a payment plan as against saving for a cash purchase; planning for a "rainy day". Present real problems of life for individuals.

  • Lagomorph Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 8:56 a.m.

    Can it be, a column by Dr. Williams that I actually agree with? If anything, I would say he didn't go far enough. I would add to his list:
    - enough statistics to understand the meaning of a probability p value, normal distributions, variance, confidence levels (margins of error)
    - an understanding of exponential functions (has relevance to interest rates, population growth, etc.); the Rule of 70
    - a smattering of calculus to help see the world in dynamic terms rather than static (the rate of change is often more important than the magnitude of a measurement-- e.g. global temperature); the concept of marginality (e.g. tax rates)
    - how to interpret graphs of functions: the slope of a line has meaning, as does the area of regions on a graph (see the calculus point above-- this is just another way of describing differentials and integrals)

    I'm not saying everyone should study and be able to solve second order partial differential equations (I've long since forgotten how), but some grounding in the basic concepts would really help people function in the world and interpret the numerical data they encounter every day. It may be a pipe dream in a world where many don't even know how to subtract to make change, but it's a good fantasy, right?

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 8:52 a.m.

    Basic Math is great; my daughter thinks so too. When she was almost five I remember her writing out addition sums on the sidewalk with chalk and then solving them. Then she went to school and suffered a regression in math and in English.

    I think that children have deficit attention problems though. They are used to being entertained and too many cannot seem to concentrate on anything that is not
    obvious "fun". Give teachers clown makeup then and tune into Sesame Street. That will give them at least a smattering in fundamentals.

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    Feb. 22, 2012 8:46 a.m.

    Math is great. It strengthens the mind, and improves reasoning.

    Unfortunately, math is being presented through a standardized test format, and is destroying student motivation and interest.

    How can teachers and students find interest when subjects are mandated with penalties attached.

    Over the past twenty years, I have asked hundreds of people their opinions of these tests. Not one has ever stated it as a positive for improving learning. No one has ever made comments similar to "I'm glad we have these tests, my child has learned so much more".

    Wasting time and money, I'm amazed the public hasn't spoken up about it. These tests are hurting our education, and students are bored.

  • kibitzer Magna, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 8:27 a.m.

    If we could do math we might not use our credit cards so much. "Practical Math" is the way to go. Invite Congress to take part in the classes.

  • EJM Herriman, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 6:56 a.m.

    The majority of US students hate to do math. They hate to have to problem solve, especially if it is time consuming. I see it everyday with students in my office. If they can't get it done immediately then they want no part of it. We have raised a generation of "let me do my work immediately and get it over with". Math is a process. Today's young people, by and large, want nothing to do with it. Pretty sad.

  • raybies Layton, UT
    Feb. 22, 2012 6:49 a.m.

    Walter 4got 2 menshun that Math is BOOOOOORING and so Uncool! With the cal-q-later app on my iphone, Y do I need 2 lern it? U sound like my English teecher!!