Math must be part of a critical core curriculum. It is one of the few subjects (along with reading and writing) worth "forcing" students to know. No one should enter the productive world, nor can they make good life decisions, without a deep and comfortable experience with math.
Given that, what math should be taught? Most math programs have been hopelessly tangled up in the same quagmire of precedent and capriciousness that has sunk the rest of formal schools' curricula.
Thus areas like algebra, geometry, and calculus are greatly overemphasized, while areas like discrete math, logic, programming, permutations, probabilities, and combinatorics are hugely deemphasized (the terms are complicated but the areas are not). For most students, calculus should be covered in history classes as a great invention in the same matter as pottery or the loom, if at all. Obviously for those passionate about math, and who go on to be pure or applied math or engineering majors, calculus should subsequently be required.
However, there remains a perfect tool and context for math, which many people already have. And that is a good spreadsheet such as Excel.
- The built in math functions of a good spreadsheet have accurately captured a range of abilities necessary to use by planners, decision makers, and scientists.
- Further, the program still requires rigorous, high level planning and programming. A spreadsheet does a lot of the rote work, but still requires and develops rock solid conceptualization and understanding of the material.
- Students can solve the same problem in different ways, which is a plus for reactance inflicted teenagers (although bad for traditional teacher).
- Finally, spreadsheets allow accessing information through symbols as well as more graphs. Most math is more visual anyway. (Will Wright, the brilliant creator of SimCity and The Sims, mused in a conversation we had if one should teach math without any numbers at all.)
Using a spreadsheet well, and being able to use as much of the built in equations as possible in the appropriate situation and to the right end, is a better framework than the textbooks and worksheets and obscure topic areas of yesteryear.