How much mathematics should everyone know? Part 1

“I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors.” — James Caballero

There are two conflicting movements in deciding how much mathematics should be required of all college students.

1. Make it easier so that more students can graduate. Mathematics courses are often the barrier that makes it impossible for many students to graduate from college. Remove the barrier and society will have more college graduates.

2. Require a substantial amount of mathematics for its own sake and because it is impossible to understand many other subjects without a good background in mathematics.

It is not hard to see what is wrong with number 1. Make a college degree too easy to get and it will not mean much, because any system that eliminates the chance of failure eliminates the meaning of success. A college degree should tell the world that the person who has the degree learned something. He may not still know it, but once he had a fairly broad education in a variety of fields. I am quite willing to place mathematics behind reading and writing, but arithmetic is the third part of the famous phrase.

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