>I think it's fine to have high attrition rates in many >professions. It's like a dating service and you don't >want people unhappy in their jobs...
That really, really depends on why there is a high attrition rate. For example, many professional sports, notably American football, have a high attrition rate. This is a purely physical thing that everyone understands. On the other hand, in many situations, for example, public school teachers, a high attrition rate indicates there is something seriously wrong.
A lot of people seem to think, and I agree, that the high attrition rate in the calculus curriculum indicates there is something seriously wrong.
Consider two examples. First, suppose a young person comes to college intending to study physics. However, one day he is sitting in his economics elective and it hits him hard that economics is for him. In the second case, a young person wants to study physics, is crushed by the math, and changes his course of study to something else.
Both students make life-altering changes to their course of study, but the first case is a great success while the second is a shattering failure. There is evidence to suggest the second case is much more common than the first.
Kirby, I mean no disrespect, but whatever value there may be to your "digital math", it cannot substitute for the calculus which is rightly viewed as one of the great achievements of Western Civilization.
Therefore, many serious people gave serious thought to why too many students, who fit the profile and should have been successful at the calculus, found the experience so painful, unpleasant, and demoralizing that they preferred to change the arc of their lives than continue with the calculus or with their originally intended course of study.
Jerry Uhl was one such person, and my respect for him is boundless. But, did he change the nature of the calculus curriculum in any large and important way? I am guessing "no", for two reasons.
First, had Uhl succeeded, I think we would have heard a lot more about him and his program. Second, there is the basic question of what is fundamentally wrong with the calculus curriculum.
I predicted fifteen years ago that whatever good Jerry Uhl and his Calculus Reform Movement colleagues might achieve---and I think they have achieve much good---they would not be able to solve the motivating problem of the Reform Movement, i.e., they would have little or no impact on the attrition rate. And my thinking on this question is exceedingly simple (I am an exceedingly simply guy).
There never was anything wrong with the calculus or with how it is generally taught. For complicated historical reasons, more and more students start the calculus curriculum less and less well prepared. That's all. So, to solve the problem of calculus attrition, you have to solve the problem of the mathematical preparation of the calculus students.
Uhl and his colleagues took the attitude that they have to teach their students as they find them. That is a noble attitude, but wholly insufficient for the task at hand. I think they would have done much better to bring unbearable pressure, on the people responsible, to produce better prepared students. Instead, by their efforts to reform the calculus, they have allowed the problem to fester.
To put it another way, attrition in the calculus curriculum is a political problem, not a pedagogical problem, and I cannot imagine another group of people more poorly suited to a political fight than college math professors. Sad to say, the Calculus Reform Movement is one of the great missed opportunities in modern education history.