Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg is considered the greatest song of the century and the greatest song in a movie of all time, and it is my very favorite song. I never tire of listening to it. E. Y. ”Yip” Harburg wrote not only all of the lyrics for “The Wizard of Oz” but he wrote “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and the musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” He left us with music that so beautifully expressed his deep belief in an equitable society.
Today, Yip Harburg would probably be writing lyrics about math. For unlikely as it may seem, mathematics has become the main driver of inequity in our nation. It is the main academic reason students do not complete a college education. And the data is crystal clear, a college education is the prime determinant of a better life.
We can no longer claim that math is not necessary for everyone. We can no longer claim that some people just don’t get math and that is ok because in the arts and trades they won’t need it. We can no longer claim that the math we expect our children to master should be determined by college math departments who all too often focus only on graduating qualified mathematicians. Math has become central to not just work and life but to our thought processes as well. It is not only key to good STEM jobs, it is required for the managerial tasks everyone will do in the 21st century. We can no longer dismiss math as a nice to have.
So we must ask, “What mathematics is essential for life and work in the 21st century?” And how can we enable every, yes every, student to have the numbersense, the understanding, and the fluency they will need. I believe this to be the most important question education faces, for solving it will truly enable every student to “fly over the rainbow.”