Statistics For All

In my daily search for math news, I found this great clip from TED from 2009 by Arthur Benjamin. The overall message from Professor Benjamin is that calculus shouldn’t be the pinnacle of high school math courses that we push all students to strive for, but rather statistics and probability should be the ‘mecca’ of high school mathematics.

His argument is as follows:

“Very few people actually use calculus in a conscious, meaningful way in their day-t0-day lives.  On the other hand, statistics, that’s a subject that you could, and should, use on a daily basis.  It’s risk, it’s reward, it’s randomness….it’s understanding data. I think if our high school students, if all the American citizens knew about probability and statistics, we wouldn’t be in the economic mess we are in today.”

I am in complete agreement with Professor Benjamin that calculus is a very important subject and students should take it by the end of their freshman year in college, but statistics should be required in high school. Statistics is math that is relevant, useful and practical, but few students are pushed towards it.  And, as Professor Benjamin points out, statistics and probability can also be really fun. What student doesn’t love predicting who will win Friday’s football game or whether it will snow enough to get a day off from school?

I say we make Statistics & Probability a required math course for all students, much like Algebra and Geometry.  It’s not an easy sell…I know from experience.  You wouldn’t believe the flack I got from my oldest daughter’s guidance counselor when we put her in AP Prob/Stats instead of calculus!  But – she loved it, uses it, got a 5 on the AP test, and gained back an appreciation for and enjoyment of mathematics that she had lost.  (FYI – she’s taking calculus next year in college).

Let’s face it – not everyone is going towards a career that requires the use of calculus, but everyone is going to use statistics and probability. The Common Core State Standards clearly place statistics and probability as  crucial mathematical standards that all students should master.  Data analysis is embedded in all the standards.  The Statistics & Probability Standards emphasize the importance of being able to use data, particularly variable data, to make decisions and predictions.  Adopting the Common Core means changing not only how we teach math, but what we teach. Let’s do what’s best for the majority of our students.

4 thoughts on “Statistics For All”

  1. I believe it is ridiculous to make any blanket statements that EVERYONE should take/learn any course. Equitable education is not equal education.

    And if Professor Benjamin is equating our economic collapse with students taking statistics he doesn’t deserve the title of professor.

    1. Danny,

      In that case, then how do we combat the idea that everyone should take algebra (i.e. Algebra for All) or everyone should take US History?

      I think the point Professor Benjamin was making actually ties to your comment that equitable education is not equal education. We tend to push students on the path towards calculus, which is NOT equitable or equal for the vast majority of students who are not going to use those math concepts in their future endeavors. But to create this ideal math path, we eliminate courses such as Consumer Math or narrow the number of students taking courses such as Discrete Math or Probability and Statistics. This is a disservice to our students because to be equitable, students should have the choices to take course that will be of use to their needs for the future, not the determined path by others. Gaining practical mathematical skills, such as balancing a check book or making predictions about investments, are practical math concepts of use to many, if not all, students, and might help create more economically aware citizens.

      1. How do we combat “one size fits all” political decisions?

        By refusing to participate. Federal and State Governments have given themselves monopolies on education they don’t deserve. Refuse to cooperate, find funding elsewhere (in the community), give more options, and make jobs in education a privilege not a right.

        But, I do like your synthesis of the TED talk and my initial comment: the idea of choices. Very astute.

        1. I wish we could just refuse to participate. Unfortunately, I think schools are so embedded and reliant on Federal and State funding that it is going to be a long haul before it can truly happen.

          Thanks for the great food for thought here Danny!!

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