As of a few weeks ago, a Hillsdale student could graduate without ever walking through the first floor of DOW Science — i.e., the math department — if he achieved an ACT mathematics score of 27.
Not any longer.
In a faculty meeting Feb. 4, professors voted unanimously to abolish the ACT standard as acceptable fulfillment of a student’s mathematics proficiency. Now, more incoming students will be required to take a math course to satisfy the mathematics proficiency requirement for graduation.
Students and faculty alike should rejoice over this expansion of the core. This requirement will give students the opportunity to see how math is not simply calculation, computation, finding “x,” and manipulating equations; it is logic, symmetry, argumentation, and even beauty. Now our core curriculum better attains a true liberal arts education.
Mathematics grounds the quadrivium, but it also has a more fundamental role within the liberal arts: Math solidifies the logical skills and deductive reasoning necessary to pursue other disciplines. Plato required that his students know geometry before they entered his academy. Medievals like Maimonides saw mathematics as a necessary prerequisite for studying physics, theology, and metaphysics.
In Book VI of Plato’s Republic, Socrates presents the divided line of knowledge to Glaucon. The third segment, dianoia, represents knowledge of mathematical objects, the ability to reason from premises to sound conclusions. The fourth and final segment, noesis, represents knowledge of the intelligible forms, the ability to inquire into the causes and nature of a thing without any assumptions. Mathematics proudly occupies that third segment — if one cannot participate in mathematical, deductive reasoning, how can one participate in philosophy?
Though dianoia may occupy a lower level of the line of knowledge than noesis, this disparity does not make math a lower discipline. Far from it. It instead testifies to how fundamental mathematics and mathematical reasoning are to our thinking.
Besides the theoretical justification of this core change, why is this addition good practically? This solid foundation of reasoning and mathematical thinking can enrich the entirety of a student’s Hillsdale education and make him an even better student of the liberal arts. Refining one’s skills of logic and argumentation through proof-writing can easily permeate one’s logic and argumentation in paper-writing for other classes.
Students will be happily surprised that mathematics is more interdisciplinary than they may think. For example, Mathematics and Deductive Reasoning (MTH 105) will continue to satisfy the mathematics proficiency requirement, and this course explores Euclid’s “Elements.” To study such an influential thinker of the Greek world and the Western tradition will give students a more holistic understanding of our Greco-Roman heritage.
Finally, we cannot deny math’s practical applicability. Mathematical skills, concepts, and reasoning pervade our daily lives, from the most basic budgeting tasks to reading statistics in a newspaper article, or to the more complicated situations of choosing the best job or graduate school. Math’s utility, along with its theoretical order, logic, and beauty, helps us understand the world around us.
To the incoming students and all of campus: Do not fear math because it is hard. Embrace it because it is good in itself, good for our minds, and good for our liberal arts education.