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When I wrote my commentary about liberal arts math education for the Targum last week, I didn’t really expect it to get much attention — which is why I was overjoyed to find that Kellen Myers, a math Ph.D candidate at Rutgers, had taken time to write a nice, long post of his own in response. My joy quickly faded, as nowhere in Myers’ retort did he actually address the issue at hand — namely, what kind of math should be taught to mathematically uninterested liberal arts majors. Let’s look at his three central claims, then go on to talk about the real issue.
Introductory-level mathematics education is a festering wart on this country’s nose. More locally, Rutgers — a university that touts some of the best researchers in applied mathematics, as well as a top-twenty graduate program — is doing nothing to heal the deep intellectual wounds incoming liberal arts freshman have sustained as part of their mandatory mathematics education in public school. Recall that if you place into pre-calculus or higher on the Rutgers math placement entrance exam, you have the option of taking a course called “Math 103 — Topics in Mathematics for The Liberal Arts” to satisfy the “QQ” and “QR” School of Arts and Sciences Core Curriculum. Many liberal arts majors enroll in “Math 103” intending for it to be the last math class they ever take. Let’s look at some of the topics for that class and use them as a stepping-stone to briefly discuss the problems of math education today. But first, let’s inspect why so many people hate mathematics.