Teach Statistics Before Calculus? An interesting idea by Arthur Benjamin

I don’t usually get into discussions here about the teaching of statistics, as that’s not really the point of this blog.

Even so, I found this idea fascinating, and since this blog is about learning statistics, I thought you may find it interesting as well.

The following is a TED talk by Arthur Benjamin, who is a math professor at Harvey Mudd College.  Let me start by saying he is awesome.  I already watched his Mathemagician TED talk with my kids*, so when I found this, I already expected it to be very good.

I wasn’t disappointed.

*if you too are on an active campaign to instill a love of math in your kids, I highly recommend it.

Here are two of my favorite quotes, keeping in mind that I took calculus in high school and I LOVED it.  Even so, he’s got some really good points:

“Very few people actually use calculus in a conscious, meaningful way in their day-to-day lives.  On the other hand, statistics–that’s a subject that you could, and should, use on a daily basis.”

“If it’s taught properly, it can be a lot of FUN. I mean, probability and statistics–it’s the mathematics of games and gambling, it’s…it’s analyzing trends, it’s predicting the future.”

If you find the video isn’t working, you can watch it directly on the TED site (this is the first time I’ve embedded a video). 🙂



Reader Interactions


  1. Frank Berardi says

    I am a 47 year old, retired military, currently in grad school for aerospace engineering with a BS in Physics in 2015. I wanted to be a math teacher back in the 90s. Life took me away but, I have often put myself in a teaching role, or similar. At the end of my career I was developing training for warrant officer school. One of the projects I have just started is to teach calculus to kindergarteners. I have a lesson plan that gauges success by the child’s ability to take the area of a square. Ten hours and less than $1/kid with groups larger than 20 (bigger=better). I agree with everything you said. I’ve long hated how calculus was taught. I know it can be done better. I support the idea of a “field related” content study plan. You may be overgeneralizing that all math can come from statistics but, I can’t argue that everything involves calculus. What I hope you can agree with is that if the stigma of calculus is removed (because ‘we learned that in kindergarten’) society as a whole would be better.

  2. Paulette Del Rosso says

    I stumbled on this TED talk and was impressed as well. I teach Geometry and Pre-Calculus to special needs students in a suburban high school. I am also working on a doctoral degree in research psychology that requires the study of statistics. I am proud of our high school’s commitment to enabling students with learning disabilities and other special needs to participate on the playing field of college readiness. But many will not pursue math intensive careers. As I become aware of the many uses of statistics, I would also humbly suggest that all high school students have exposure to statistics in a meaningful way that prepares them for life as well as college.


    • Karen says

      Hi Paulette,

      What a great job! Good for you…

      And I agree, teaching stats in high school instead of calculus is especially important for the kids who won’t ever take another math class, whether or not they go to college. Anyone who ends up in a quantitative field will eventually take both anyway.


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