I was listening to a podcast of a BBC interview with Ian “Supercrunchers” Ayres. Supercrunchers is a book which illustrates all the ways in which the ‘new econometrics’ or ‘social stats’ is revolutionising – well lets not get carried away – improving the judgement of all sorts of people in making important decisions in many walks of life.
Anyway, and I’m sorry I can’t find the podcast – it was late 2007 on the BBC world service – he observed that stats should be taught in schools. Generally probability is taught in schools but very little stats. As Ayres said, stats is hugely useful in life. A good exposure to stats in school would be useful throughout life. Calculus is a wonderful thing. Its elegance still excites me. But it’s of much less general use in later life – unless you turn out to be a calculus using adult.
I’m not suggesting doing away with the rest of the curriculum, or skewing it entirely towards direct usefulness in later life, but there’s nothing wrong with pushing it towards usefulness. I remember doing oodles of stuff that was not particularly elegant, not a particularly good education in mathematics, when I was doing it. Trigonometry, more calculus than we should have. We should have done some stats. And if we wanted to be ‘purer’ about it, we should have done more set theory and less trigonometry.
Reminds me of some of my views on the use (or rather, very tepid use) of spreadsheets in schools.