Any given Thursday, there are 12 generations scrambling to cram mathematics knowledge in their developing brains. They’re sprinting towards a goal that they don’t know anything about. Every student is rushing towards the same thing—calculus.
The progression goes something like this: basic arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra, a slight detour through geometry, precalculus and finally, calculus. For most students, this is an incredible disappointment and waste of time.
Ultimately, calculus isn’t a subject practical enough to be used by the majority of students and workers.
At its best, calculus is an obscure art championed by math majors who delight in the mysteries of Abstract Algebra and Complex Analysis.
At its worst, it’s just a simple tool. Calculus is a blunt chisel used by engineers, despised by students and forgotten by almost everyone.
My problem with calculus isn’t its commonly overstated difficulty. As an engineer myself, I have used calculus on almost every problem set I have been assigned since my first year.
On the other hand, thousands of chemistry majors sit there, evaluating triple integrals in preparation for the one five-minute interval in their lives when they will consider taking a derivative before just using Wolfram Alpha.
Consider, then, an actually useful replacement for calculus: probability and statistics. Why not spend time building up to this subject instead?
Almost every single STEM career requires a strong understanding of statistics. Coming up with effective and comprehensive tests, as well as being able to evaluate the results of these tests, is essential to an engineering career. Finance careers depend entirely on forecasting abilities and the ability to interpret stochastic systems. Even the purest definition of science can be reduced to our attempts to understand the universe’s uncertainties.
Probability and statistics are not just useful for STEM students. Marketing is the art of manipulating the chance that a consumer will buy a product. Sociology is an in-depth analysis of the probability of a person’s decisions in a given scenario. Entrepreneurs must be fully aware of risks before undertaking any venture. None of these people would benefit from learning unreasonably specific cases of Graham’s Law.
The skills gained through statistics classes are important for educated, high-functioning citizens.
We are constantly making decisions and taking risks in our lives. Sure, making these choices might not require learning how to analyze a joint pdf distribution, but an awareness and respect of the concept of chance is an incredible mental ability.
We live in an increasingly statistics-dominated society. Every day, there are thousands of media outlets quoting highly misleading figures obtained with questionable testing methods. Being able to interpret these “statistics” judiciously and intelligently is crucial.
Unlike calculus, probability and statistics are widely and directly applicable to real-life scenarios. Sure, it’s useful to be able to take a triple integral in polar coordinates if you’re desperately trying to pass fluid mechanics, but in almost every corner of life, statistics plays an irreplaceable role.