I read with great interest Aleksey Nudelman’s essay on the state of math education in America. While K-12 math education could certainly be improved in many different ways, the biggest problem with math education in higher education is mission creep. Universities decide that math is so important that they even require calculus for business degrees. I know many engineers who have told me outright that they have never used calculus or really any math beyond algebra or trig in their career after college even once! And businessmen? Forget it.

It is simply not necessary for 99% of real-world programming. I can out-program nearly any mathematician I have ever met and it has nothing to do with math ability. It just happens that businesses don’t need advanced math for most of the kind of programming they want, unless you consider statistics advanced math, which I do not. This kind of credential inflation could go on to the point that a simple babysitter would need an advanced degree in childcare.

Over-emphasizing advanced math also has the effect of larding up the college degree with time-consuming, unnecessary courses, and it forces students to take classes that have little or nothing to do with their major when it could be adding more hours of real-world programming. I have not had one of my clients ask for advanced math functions for their databases.

Imagine how long a programmer would last who purposely designed a database that did not fit the needs of his or her client. Yet we tolerate exactly that attitude from our colleges.

Bill McNew