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The Math Myth
Andrew Hacker

Book cover

Hacker’s premise is that people don’t use the math – higher level math – learned in high school. “will plumbers need polynomials?” He explores gender gaps in math and states that the “shortages” in hiring Americans for STEM jobs are actually economic. “trying to hire high skilled workers at rock-bottom rates is not a skills gap” (p. 35).


National Merit scholars are also biased – Hacker says it is “mismeasuring merit” (p. 70) As is the tendency of elite professors to weigh in on K-12 math curriculum and instruction, saying “ I hope I will be forgiven for thinking that something is amiss in believing that a distinguished research mathematician would be a person to contribute to the training of teachers” (p. 103).  He distinguishes between doing math and teaching math and pushes back against the idea underlying the Common core – that everyone needs to do advanced math.


Much of these come from two distinct approaches to learning and teaching which Hacker calls Discipline and Discovery.



One right answer

Different paths to solutions


Different solutions are needed for different contexts


John Dewey

Shapes character

It’s not the students – it’s the lesson

Puritanical – if it’s fun, it’s not learning



Collaborative/team based


What about Tracking?

Japan does not track nor does Korea.  However, both have high rates of “shadow education” and low rates of sleep in HS which connects to high rates of suicide and depression.

            Statistics vs Advanced Math

“Advanced training in mathematics does not necessarily ensure high levels of quantitative literacy (p. 169). Numerical literacy is using the right approach at the right time, finding the correct information needed for the context of a real world problem.  It is NOT a focus on arithmetic.

He ends with examples from his own course (where?) on Quantitative Reasoning.

My summary – highly enjoyable read though probs not a page turner for everyone.  Amazing the difference six years makes.  Th e Common Core has already receded as an issue although the basic question underlying the CC remains.  There is ongoing tension between what school is for, what learning is for.  Who decides these questions?  The person who decides becomes a gatekeeper and to an extent determines who succeeds

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