Despite increasing attention to preparing students for the workplace, too many courses are still promoted as essential for success when, in fact, they are hard to defend. I’m thinking now of calculus (“Who Needs Calculus? Not High-Schoolers,” The Wall Street Journal, May 15).
Since the 1980s, the number of high schools teaching calculus has grown dramatically. For students who intend to major in math, physics, or engineering, calculus is indispensable. But I wonder if most students would not be better off learning statistics or computer science? Analyzing data in all their various forms is far more likely to be useful.
The argument against aligning courses with the reality of the workplace is that doing so turns schools into training camps for business. But students and their parents are entitled to know if what is being studied has relevance. There is some truth to the claim that it’s impossible to know the answer beforehand. Yet the cost of going to college today is so exorbitant that few are willing to wait to find out. They demand to see a direct connection between what they are studying and its marketability.
I remember when Latin was defended as essential. But time has shown that its benefits were wildly oversold. Latin is certainly academic, but I think students would be far better off learning Mandarin or Arabic as a foreign language. It all comes down to its value in the workplace.
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