Statistics >> Calculus ?

Another TED talk argues for replacing calculus with statistics at the pinnacle of mathematics education.

There’s an interesting discussion at Wild About Math!.

I’m a bit wary of the idea. First, I don’t think there needs to be a pinnacle – math can be a Bactrian camel. Second, some of the concepts are commingled anyway (limits and convergence, for example), so it hardly makes sense to treat them as competitors. Third, both are hugely important to good decision making (which is ultimately what we want out of education). Fourth, the world is a dynamic, stochastic system, so you need to understand a little of each.

Where the real opportunity lies, I think, is in motivating the teaching of both experientially. Start calculus with stocks and flows and physical systems, and start statistics with games of chance and estimation. Use both to help people learn how to make better inferences about a complex world. Then do the math as it gets interesting and necessary. Whether you come at the problem from the angle of dynamics or uncertainty first hardly matters.