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Loss of Self-Esteem and Opportunity to Receive Higher Education

We rarely talk about, or attempt to assess, the damage resulting from loss of self-esteem and loss of opportunity to advance in school on the part of the many persons who perform poorly in mathematics. Isn't it possible that many of those who do not perform well in math might yet perform at high levels in other domains of learning? Aren't we wrongfully denying those who fail in math an opportunity to succeed in other areas, especially because many disciplines involve virtually no math?

If we look at the everyday problems of our professional and personal lives, how many require the levels of proficiency in mathematics that testing and certification require? A case can easily be made for simple arithmetic, no doubt, but what about algebra and geometry? How often does the average person face a problem that requires the use of concepts and principles of algebra and geometry—beyond, perhaps, simple percentages? It is not obvious that mathematical proficiencies beyond that of basic arithmetic should be required of all persons. Might we be better off making math optional beyond elementary arithmetic and the simplest algebra? Might we not be better off merely providing incentives to motivated persons to study and excel at math? What is the point of lifelong penalties for those who do poorly in math?

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