If you asked a random high school student what their least favorite subject was, many would say math. Math is seen as “fairly useless in many careers,” and some say they just “don’t get numbers.” While it’s okay to not enjoy math, it’s a fundamental part of the world around us, and we need students who will solve the world’s problems. Four years of math doesn’t hurt students of color, and discouraging these students from taking challenging courses only leads to an underrepresentation of BIPOC in STEM-related fields.
One common argument against math is that high school-level mathematics is “fairly useless in many careers.” While someone working at Marshall’s may not be using trigonometry in their daily lives, the purpose of high school is to propel students toward college, a career, or both. Even if a student isn’t interested in engineering, architecture, biology, medicine, or other jobs that apply mathematics daily, these skills provide a foundation on which many successful careers are based. While it can be argued that many students do not plan to go to college or pursue one of these careers, the purpose of education is to keep students’ options open.
In a previous issue of the Jacket, an article was published entitled “Four Years of Math Hurts Students of Color.” It argued that “there is no need for University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) admissions to require four years of math.” However, this is based on a false premise, as there is no four-year math requirement present at UC/CSUs. Although UC/CSU universities recommend four years of math, it’s not technically required.
It is true that UC schools are also very selective, and for good reason — a university like UC Berkeley receives eighty thousand applications yearly, and can only accept five thousand students. Additionally, one goal of a university is to select those who will succeed in future careers.
Many also argue that senior year math courses are needlessly difficult, with “most students who take them [struggling] to succeed.” However, this is by design. These classes must teach the fundamentals of calculus and statistics so that people can actually learn the skills required in the future. While the previous article on this topic states, “Math courses undeniably disproportionately harm non-white students,” there is no “harm” in a difficult course being offered at Berkeley High School (BHS). Colleges look for well-rounded students, and whether or not a student took AP Calculus BC is only a small part of a college’s consideration for a student.
Additionally, discouraging students from taking these classes only decreases the number of people of color in mathematics. Many students are increasingly worried about world events such as climate change, or world hunger. While it’s true that math isn’t for everyone, the next generation of scientists and mathematicians needs to graduate excited about solving the world’s problems. If we discourage students from taking these courses, there will be fewer people of color in these fields, and fewer such role models for students who are interested in STEM.
This vicious cycle is in our near future if we do not encourage students to explore the deeper side of STEM. Clearly, we need more support for students of color to help them succeed in harder classes, but we must not actively discourage them from certain career paths.