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Why Study Upper-Level Math?


Date: 10/10/2001 at 20:46:03
From: Brandon
Subject: Why Should we take upper level Math?

My Pre-Calculus teacher ask me to write a paper about taking upper-
level math courses. My question is, why DO we take Higher Math 
courses? Even my teacher says that we will not use them when we are 
out of school. I think you understand which classes I'm talking about: 
Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Trigonometry, that sort of thing.

Thank you, 
Brandon J. Sharp


Date: 10/11/2001 at 10:43:44
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: Why Should we take upper level Math?

Hi Brandon,

Maybe the place to start is by asking yourself this question. Why are 
_you_ taking pre-calculus? Probably so you can take calculus. And why 
do you want to take calculus? Probably because you want to get a 
degree in something that will require you to understand calculus. And 
what kinds of degrees require you to understand calculus? Pretty much 
any kind of science or engineering, including quasi-sciences like 
economics.  

But there is also this: In Japan, if you want to study Zen Buddhism, 
you don't do it by talking about Zen Buddhism. You do it by learning 
to do something else, like arrange flowers, or perform a tea ceremony, 
or shoot arrows, or draw and strike with a sword. The activity              
provides a medium in which the lessons of Zen Buddhism can be explored 
and mastered.

Similarly, if you want to learn to become more effective at solving 
problems, you don't do it by talking about solving problems. You do it 
by solving problems! And math, it turns out, is a particularly good 
medium for constructing and solving problems. 

Finally, there is a kind of beauty to mathematics that rivals the 
beauty that people find in paintings and sculptures and music. But 
this beauty doesn't really become apparent until you reach a certain 
level of proficiency in the subject. In that sense, making students 
take upper-level math courses is a way to try to expose them to that 
beauty, for fear that they won't be exposed to it without that kind of 
coercion. It's a little like forcing them to learn to play musical 
instruments, or participate in sports, whether they want to or not. 

Write back if you'd like to talk about this some more, or if you have 
any other questions. 

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/   
    
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