Why Defending America’s National Security Requires Calculus and Critical Thinking

January 11, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Americas Tags: MathCalculusNational SecuritySpaceRocket Scientist

Why Defending America’s National Security Requires Calculus and Critical Thinking

While politicians and big tech descend the slippery slope of censoring news and opinion, often inconsistently so, there is little attention to how to enable Americans to read more critically. Relying on government or corporate censorship automatically erodes liberty.

Some teachers may scoff at the national security implications of education. Happily, the pedagogical arguments also point to the same conclusion: it is time to privilege statistics over calculus. Almost every career incorporates statistics; few beyond engineers and scientists utilize calculus.  

Nor would emphasizing statistics over calculus mean diluting standards, even though the Dunning-Kruger effect certainly comes into play. Organic chemistry cured me of that but, as a college sophomore in 1992, I was struggling with a problem set after bombing an exam. My grandfather less than helpfully remarked how he had aced organic chemistry in his day. I later found his textbook: It was about seven hundred pages shorter than mine was. Today’s students must cover even more material. The simple fact is that as school districts try to accelerate students, they must cut corners. Rather than superficially teach all fields, it may be appropriate to focus on statistics in high school and then defer calculus to college when its consumers would be better prepared to handle it anyway.

In many ways, Sputnik launched not just the space race but also calculus’s role at the top of the curricular food chain. That may have made in the 1950s and 1960s, but curriculum developers should focus on the appropriateness of education for the world in which we live now rather than simply let inertia determine content. As Americans debate everything from the response to the coronavirus, climate to defense spending, and election turnout, the country appears to be pulling apart at the seams. There is too much is at stake these days to simply continue math class as usual. 

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a frequent author for the National Interest. 

Image: Rueters