Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

As I got dressed I watched CNN’s Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien. I don’t know when I went from watching 4 episodes of Sports Center (same exact episode) before work to watching CNN but I’m glad that I did. As I tuned I was delighted that Will Cain wasn’t a part of the panel (I think he’s really smug and I don’t really like his condescending disposition). Today on the Get Real segment they covered a Op-Ed piece written by Andrew Hacker from the New York Times (I seriously hate that right-wing racist publication. Its basically the Fox News of newspapers). Hacker questioned the need for not just algebra but other maths such geometry and calculus. To quote:

“Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent.”

I am 100% against this type of thinking. While I don’t debate that everyone is not going to be good at math and students struggle  and are sometimes turned off to school in general due to their issues with learning math. Its a subject that leaves little room for abstract interpretation. You get it or you don’t but is the answer to really just say since it’s hard then we’ll just drop the requirement for children to take it.

What kind of message is that sending? “When the going gets tough, just lower the bar so you can pass with ease?” If I wasn’t required to do anything that I found difficult do you know what I would be good at today? Absolutely nothing. Its no wonder America falls behind almost every other industrialized country when it concerns the education of our children. Consider these facts:

  • American students rank 25th in math and 21st in science compared to students in 30 industrialized countries.
  • America’s top math students rank 25th out of 30 countries when compared with top students elsewhere in the world.
  • By the end of 8th grade, U.S. students are two years behind in the math being studied by peers in other countries.
  • Seventy percent of 8th graders can’t read at their grade level, and most will never catch up.

Its no wonder we are where we are when we don’t expect more from our children. We’re a lazy, shortcut taking nation and it’s reflected in our belief in our children. Math is not going to be every child’s strongest subject but does that mean we should just cater to their strong points? Kids don’t like broccoli either, so should we just allow them to eat ice cream for dinner every night? See how asinine that logic is?

You’re going to fill your car up with gas. Lets say you only have $20.00 to spend on gas it is $3.50/gallon. How many gallons could you buy?

Let x = # of gallons of gas

x=5.71 gallons

You know who wouldn’t be able to know how much gas they can buy with a certain amount of money? People who didn’t take algebra as children. Its not just people who work in professions that require high math and science knowledge; people use algebra in their everyday lives and don’t even realize it.


24 thoughts on “Why Are We So Ok With Mediocrity?

  1. gemmieboo

    If I wasn’t required to do anything that I found difficult do you know what I would be good at today? Absolutely nothing.

    EXACTLY. besides, math takes work. you cant skate by and be good at math. math requires patience and perseverance. all kids need a good lesson in patience and perseverance when it comes to learning.

    being required to learn and be proficient in higher level math (even if its just algebra and not calculus) is NOT going to stomp out anyone’s dream of being an artist, historian, or creative writer. get the entire eff out of here. smh

    asinine indeed!

    good post.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      “kids need a good lesson in patience and perseverance when it comes to learning.”

      that’s definitely getting lost in the shuffle. i was always told that anything that comes easy isn’t worth having.

      1. Sayo O.

        And on the inverse to that, nothing worth having comes easy. It’s just that nobody is making this knowledge look like it’s worth having anymore. Math and science has been deemed geek stuff, even though it shapes the lives of everyone on a daily basis.

      2. madscientist7 Post author

        @Sayo, i thought being a geek was the “in”??? oh my bad that’s only looking like a geek and not actually striving to attain knowledge. smh

  2. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    I hate math with an unhealthy passion but I hate doing cardio also. On the other hand both are needed to make life more stable in various areas. For those of us who aren’t good at math I think many of the stress comes from instructors in high school or earlier not having the time to help out each and every student. Gotta keep that herd moving…

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      i agree. some of it has to do with instructors who don’t take the time to ensure that students know the material or can teach it in a way that children can relate. some of it also falls on parents whom don’t reinforce what students learn at school. also, students themselves have to shoulder some of this. there’s plenty of blame to go around on this one.

      1. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

        Yeah, my pops didn’t finish high school but the little ninja knows math. He farmed and worked in various forms of construction using heavy machinery and you just had to know the numbers.

        When it comes to our problems with education there is sooo much blame to go around.

    2. AfterMath

      what about math do you hate? Just like there are different exercises with cardio, there are many different types of math. You get a mathematician into a room and ask them to add fractions and they may give you a confused look, but ask them to find which deals they should offer on advertising (what made Google rich) and you may get a totally different response. Math is multidimensional and I hate that its known only by so few of its characteristics.

  3. Divinepearlz

    I too hate math but understand its necessity. Having had to take stats, I needed algebra. Children don’t like math because some people don’t know how to teach it. I swear when it comes to math I am dyslexic. In junior high, I still had an issue with multiplation. My first math teacher was the worst. It took another math teacher to come in and show me all of the tricks that would help me with multiplication. For instance the product for 9 multipliers will always add up to 9…9*5=45 (4+5=9).

    I agree, that this nation is lazy. We can’t read and we can’t count. Now wonder why we are in an economic crisis.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      i read this book called outliers and in one chapter it discussed a reason why american children lag behind their chinese counterparts. its our numbering system. for instance. you have fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen and nineteen. why is 12 called twoteen? and 11 called oneteen? it seems silly to call them that now but as children who are first learning numbers this can be very confusing. this is how the chinese numbering system works.

  4. Sayo O.

    The simple thing is that Americans seem to largely be against hard work. And can you blame them? With all the ignorance of reality TV being the gateway to fame and “success” nowadays, it’s no wonder more and more kids grow up with a “Who needs math?” mentality, and a sadder (but broader) “Who needs school/education?” mentality.

    I have always been pretty decent at math, but it’s been because I practiced and got good at it. If parents put nearly as much effort into making their kids academic stars rather than athletic stars, we could see the same results. Kids are achieving athletic greatness younger and younger here in the US, but academic greatness hasn’t seen the same progress….

    The only benefit is that the few who take the time to achieve in those realms will continue to be paid, as the masses will sooner or later lack the skills.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      “The simple thing is that Americans seem to largely be against hard work.”

      i hate to make this argument but its crazy how immigrants from all over the world can come here and use our educational system to further enhance their quality of life with hard work and perseverance but people who were born into this system don’t take advantage of the opportunities that they’ve been afforded.

      i completely agree with you on children now seeing athletics and entertainment (reality tv included) as a way of gaining instant fame and fortune. its really sad.

  5. Dynamic Commander (@JubiTheGreat)

    1 – I hate Will Cain too.
    2 – NYTimes is a right-wing paper? Most ppl consider it too liberal. Interesting.
    3 – Most ppl have a disconnect btwn what they “learned” in school & how to apply it in their life. But that’s because most ppl don’t learn how to think criticially & apply concepts to different situations, they just learn how to memorize things. That’s why folks can recite the capitals of countries but don’t understand how algebra is applicable in their daily life.
    4 – I use algebra all the time, and not because I’m a scientist.

    1. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

      “2 – NYTimes is a right-wing paper? Most ppl consider it too liberal. Interesting.”

      I saw that too. I really like the times (although it is too liberal at times)and it is the “paper of note” whatever that means anymore.

    2. madscientist7 Post author

      My bad. I confused the Times with the NY Post. The Post is the newspaper that I hate. Either way I hate the piece.

      3. its crazy that i didn’t fully learn how to think critically until i got to graduate school and suddenly there were no more textbooks. i was required to add knowledge to the community. you can’t learn how to do that in a textbook.

  6. Muze

    funny thing is American kids rank number ONE in self-esteem and confidence concerning their intelligence and how smart they THINK they are. we push “you are special and amazing” so tough without ensuring they actually possess the skills/knowledge to claim it. smh. lol

    good post. math was certainly not my strong suit but i can appreciate the concreteness of it. like, there is always a right answer. in english, if a professor doesn’t like your style, tough cookie.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      these kids need to know that sometimes they aren’t *that* great. we need to stop handing out certificates of participation. i remembered when i was in grad school and i tutored math and science at the community college to make money on the side. this chick really tried to teach me how to work through a particular problem. if you’re that smart then why do you need tutoring? i certainly don’t. i have my degree already. smh

  7. simplysope

    The art of mathematics gives children, even young children the chance to witness what its like to “overcome” a difficult task. I worked at a Kumon Learning Center for 4.5 years. We did Math & Reading only. Even bright children, who had no foundational issues with math would eventually encounter something that they couldn’t handle. They would have to take the time to re-learn and absorb it, practice it and eventually conquer it. The look of satisfaction on their faces when they can do with ease something that they couldn’t decipher before? Its priceless, and its powerful. By taking away this power we are crippling kids.

    I saw a 20/20 special that explained why US kids are do mediocre (not just because of the school system), but its their parents. There was a study that showed how parents from different countries dealt with a child who got some questions wrong on an exam. Other countries? They won’t hesitate to point it out, and even lightly chastise the child. The US? Parents would almost apologize to the child for pointing out their mistake. (I’m totally grasping though, Its been a while since I’ve seen the special)

    Kids who are never challenged when they are wrong, don’t know how to handle it, and you end up with adults who only do the things they know they can do. WTF kind of life is that?

    1. Dynamic Commander (@JubiTheGreat)

      I don’t understand this American helicopter parenting philosophy. My parents didn’t play that – even when I brought home A’s my parents were still telling me how to improve. I don’t understand how so many people can be fine with there “little angels” being spoiled, entitled & mediocre.

  8. That Damn African

    Great post.

    My friend told me he used to have lots of issues with math in middle school. He got a tutor and now he’s in a Computer Engineering PhD program at Carnegie Mellon working on hardware security and dealing with all kinds of complicated math. My brother has been having trouble with algebra and geometry. I realized he can learn this stuff easily, but he has trouble focusing and doesn’t know how to study well. I’ve been helping him better understand math and he seems to be improving.

    People look at a school building as the only thing needed to learn. As in, everything in those four walls should be enough to teach every kid that comes through. If it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong. Parents and students share less and less responsibility and that’s a big problem. Getting rid of math requirements just ignores the issue, it doesn’t solve it.

  9. I Am Your People

    THIS! Algebra doesn’t just teach you “algebra,” it teaches you complex thinking skills that can be applied to liberal arts, everyday life (great gas example), etc. Kids don’t have to get straight A’s, but everyone needs skills in STEM, fine arts and history. We don’t live in a one-dimensional world.

    But back to that everyday life example – my pastor had a conversation with a police officer who insisted he didn’t pull over people for Driving While Black, since he pulled over equal numbers of Black and White drivers. Pastor pointed out that the Black population of that county was 2%, so cop should only be pulling over 2 Black drivers for every 100 White in order to be ‘equal.’ Took the cop a minute to get it.

  10. AfterMath

    What’s funny is that Hacker’s argument is one that much of the mathematical community agrees with to one extent or another. Hacker’s reasons, though, are just totally flawed. I mean, we have to ask ourselves what is the purpose of learning math and whether Algebra is accomplishing this goal, and whether there is a better way of doing this.

    As I write this, I know several of your readers are successful in their careers, and I’m willing to bet that they likely use or need to interpret statistics. I find it so interesting that I had PhD students saying that they never needed to know math, yet one section of their dissertation is entirely statistics. And that was something that was holding many of them back. And these are supposed to be some of the brightest minds in America and they couldn’t do the stats portion of their dissertation? Maybe stats, particularly elementary stats should be focused more early on than Algebra.

    Or have you ever thought about how mapquest works? What about your PS3? What about your web site? These are all tools that make the world easier for us, and we use these (and several other) tools every day, and as the days pass the more we need to know about these electronic devices, how they work, how to work them, seems to grow dramatically. The math that these things is based on is called discrete math (well that’s the basis of it, but from there there are several directions you can take). Discrete math is so important because its all about problems that come up in real businesses everyday or in the real world everyday. Most computer science programs made it (or some version of it) a basis for their students. The work isn’t so challenging that it must be taught only to college students. Maybe discrete math should be offered more often at lower levels too.


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