"Do not worry about your problems with mathematics,
I assure you mine are far greater."
- Albert Einstein
Are we too obsessed with math (requirements)?
by C.J. Westerberg
E.O. Wilson thinks we would have more students pursuing science degrees if we laid off our obsession with math (requirements in school).
Wilson should know. Known as the "father of sociobiology," Wilson is a Harvard professor, researcher, author, and recipient of numerous awards and honors such as the Pulitzer Prize (twice). He is also outspoken and provocative - and outlines his reasons why this science-math protocol has to change in a humorous exchange - check out 4-minute really fun video below.
It's hard to resist his jaw-drop story how he didn't take Algebra until his freshman year in college at the University of Alabama. Or, how he finally took Calculus when he was 32 years of age, while a tenured professor at Harvard, learning alongside students who were taking his Biology class while he was the professor. Admitting that these are extreme examples, Wilson, nevertheless, does make his point. Do check out the video below.
He admits many science students who like science don't pursue it in college because they may not particularly like math and that mastery of advanced math is always considered an absolute prerequisite for any STEM career, and wrongly assume that they have to use it constantly in their work which is not where they want to spend a vast portion of their time and energies. He doesn't degrade the value of math but wants the standard math-science protocol to be transformed into what makes more sense for the way science actually works today in the real world.
As The Daily Riff outlines in one of our most viral posts, "Why Our Kids Don't Get Math," physics professor Joseph Ganem clearly summarizes the conundrum with, "For all practical purposes readiness for calculus as an entering freshman determines choice of major and career," with reasons why this should NOT be so. In other words, we are disqualifying students from careers in science based upon their pre-calculus ability as they enter their freshman year in college.
In both videos below, Edward O. Wilson wants students who are map-makers, thinkers, learners and imaginers to become scientists, and not to "worry so much about math." He goes so far as to - spoiler alert - agree somewhat with a suggested analogy from the TED moderator: What if we viewed scientists as business entrepreneurs who called in their lawyers (in this case, the mathematicians) when they needed them? How many CEOs are surrounded by experts in their specific fields? Since scientific breakthroughs come mainly from collaborative efforts - not the solo man or woman in the lab as the romantic view goes - why not pass off certain math tasks to mathematicians when it gets too math-specialized for the scientist? Don't we do this in most careers?
then run away."
- Biologist E.O. Wilson, advising innovators to go in the opposite direction
of where everyone else is, TEDMED 2012
Wilson did more than okay taking Calculus when he was 32; maybe we are making a career in science more painful than it needs to be for many. Are we losing potential talent along the way, especially with the de-emphasis of the role of the arts and the imagination in science? Sure, Wilson is an outlier, but what if we stopped the acceleration of higher math mastery and/or obsession for those who may not want to pursue this particular path so early on? This scenario just reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a mother who was enduring interviews with private high school admissions for her son. A natural science whiz, passionate carpenter and video game maker (an impressive trifecta), her son was slated to take Algebra 1 in his freshman year of high school because he took pre-algebra in 8th grade since it was not his strongest subject. She was disheartened by the feedback she received that her son was already pegged a weak math-and-science student because he was "late" in the game for taking Algebra 1. The "race" is already over for this boy as a freshman in high school. So much for these rigid time-table valuations.
Not sure what mathematicians think of Wilson's talk. We'd like to hear from you - - -
Related The Daily Riff:
Visions of Math: What Content Should We Teach? You may be surprised by High Tech High's curriculum
Three Young Women WOW CROWD - Winners of Google Global Science Fair - video
Time to Change STEM to STEAM
Learning Math: The Symbol Barrier
Is Math Art? A Mathematician's Lament
High Tech High: "A great liberal arts school in disguise" as a STEM school - recommended VIDEO
Are STEM subjects so darn hard? Or, do we make them so?
Educator shows how collaboration key to math and science mastery featuring Freeman Hrabowski