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Formula for Changing Math Education February 1, 2009

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Arthur Benjamin believes that the practicality of statistics should be the pinnacle of the study of mathematics rather than calculus.


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Now, if President Obama invited me to be the next Czar of Mathematics, then I would have a suggestion for him that I think would vastly improve the mathematics education in this country. And it would be easy to implement and inexpensive.

The mathematics curriculum that we have is based on foundation of arithmetic and algebra. And everything we learn after that is building up towards one subject. And at top of that pyramid, it's calculus. And I'm here to say that I think that that is the wrong summit of the pyramid ... that the correct summit - that all of our students, every high school graduate should know - should be statistics: probability and statistics. (Applause)

I mean, don't get me wrong. Calculus is an important subject. It's one of the great products of the human mind. The laws of nature are written in the language of calculus. And every student who studies math, science, engineering, economics, they should definitely learn calculus by the end of their freshman year of college. But I'm here to say, as a professor of mathematics, that very few people actually use calculus in a conscious, meaningful way, in their day to day lives. On the other hand, statistics - that's a subject that you could, and should, use on daily basis. Right? It's risk. It's reward. It's randomness. It's understanding data.

I think if our students, if our high school students - if all of the American citizens - knew about probability and statistics, we wouldn't be in the economic mess that we're in today. Not only - thank you - not only that ... [but] if it's taught properly, it can be a lot of fun. I mean, probability and statistics, it's the mathematics of games and gambling. It's analyzing trends. It's predicting the future. Look, the world has changed from analog to digital. And it's time for our mathematics curriculum to change from analog to digital. From the more classical, continuous mathematics, to the more modern, discrete mathematics. The mathematics of uncertainty, of randomness, of data - and that being probability and statistics.

In summary, instead of our students learning about the techniques of calculus, I think it would be far more significant if all of them knew what two standard deviations from the mean means. And I mean it. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Courtesy of TED

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- Arthur Benjamin
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