Calculus, dreadnought of the college curriculum, has failed to keep pace with the computer age and is in dire need of change, leaders of a mathematics symposium at the National Academy of Sciences said last week. Of the 600,000 college students who took calculus last year, a third or more are believed to have failed or withdrawn.
Calculus, invented in the 17th Century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Liebnitz, is the branch of mathematics that deals with continuously changing quantities. Its equations are used to measure everything from changing weather to the cost of living.
Ronald G. Douglas, dean of physical sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said, "With computers and increasingly sophisticated hand-held calculators widely available, a lot of the things that we teach are . . . no longer needed," or at least not in the same depth.