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How We Serve (or Underserve) Our Students Through 'Dumbing Down'

Mercury Winter 2012 Table of Contents

by Kate Follette and Don McCarthy

woman reading paper

Image courtesy Kate Follette.

"Math is only useful to pass a test in math class," said the college honors student with authority. As a lover of all things mathematical, I was initially shocked, but it did get me thinking: How valuable is mathematics to the average citizen?

Am I just biased in its favor because, as a scientist, I use it in my day job? By emphasizing basic numerical skills in my introductory astronomy curriculum, am I subjecting my students to unnecessary angst and agony? If I avoid teaching such skills in my course, am I contributing to the dumbing down of a new generation? My students are definitely vocal with their complaints about it. Do they have a valid point? Could I teach numerical thinking in a more exciting way that inspires my students to improve their skills?

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