They’re teaching it wrong.
And I don’t just mean teaching the concepts incorrectly (although they do plenty of that), I mean their teaching priorities are completely backwards. Set Theory is really fun. Basic Set Theory can be taught to someone without them needing to know how to add or subtract. We teach kids Venn Diagrams but never teach them all the fun operators that go with them? Why not? You say they won’t understand? Bullshit. If we can teach third graders binary, we can teach them set theory. We take forever to get around to teaching algebra to kids, because its considered difficult. If something is a difficult conceptual leap, then you don’t want to delay it, you want to introduce the concepts as early as possible. I say start teaching kids algebra once they know basic arithmetic. They don’t need to know how to do crazy weird stuff like x * x = x² (they don’t even know what ² means), but you can still introduce them to the idea of representing an unknown value with x. Then you can teach them exponentiation and logs and all those other operators first in the context of numbers, and then in the context of unknown variables. Then algebra isn’t some scary thing that makes all those people who don’t understand math give up, its something you simply grow up with.
In a similar manner, what the hell is with all those trig identities? Nobody memorizes those things! You memorize like, 2 or 3 of them, and almost only ever use sin² + cos² = 1. In a similar fashion, nobody ever uses integral trig identities because if you are using them you should have converted your coordinate system to polar coordinates, and if you can’t do that then you can just look them up for crying out loud. Factoring and completing the square can be useful, but forcing students to do these problems over and over when they almost never actually show up in anything other than spoon-fed equations is insane.
Partial Fractions, on the other hand, are awesome and fun and why on earth are they only taught in intermediate calculus?! Kids are ALWAYS trying to pull apart fractions like that, and we always tell them to not do it – why not just teach them the right way to do it? By the time they finally got around to teaching me partial fractions, I was thinking that it would be some horrifically difficult, painful, complex process. It isn’t. You just have to follow a few rules and then 0 out some functions. How can that possibly be harder than learning the concept of differentiation? And its useful too!
Lets say we want to teach someone basic calculus. How much do they need to know? They need to know addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, exponentiation, roots, algebra, limits, and derivatives. You could teach someone calculus without them knowing what sine and cosine even are. You could probably argue that, with proper teaching, calculus would be about as hard, or maybe a little harder, than trigonometry. Trigonometry, by the way, has an inordinate amount of time spent on it. Just tell kids how right triangles work, sine/cosine/tangent, SOHCAHTOA, a few identities, and you’re good. You don’t need to know scalene and isosceles triangles. Why do we even have special names for them? Who gives a shit if a triangle has sides of the same length? Either its a right triangle and its useful or its not a right triangle and you have to do some crazy sin law shit that usually means your algorithm is just wrong and so the only time you ever actually need to use it you can just look up the formula because it is a obtuse edge case that almost never comes up.
Think about that. We’re grading kids by asking them to solve edge cases that never come up in reality and grading how well they are in math based off of that. And then we’re confused when they complain about math having no practical application? Well duh. The sheer amount of time spent on useless topics is staggering. Calculus should be taught to high school freshman. Differential equations and complex analysis go to the seniors, and by the time you get into college you’re looking at combinatorics and vector analysis, not basic calculus.
I have already seen some heavily flawed arguments against this. Some people say that people aren’t interested in math, so this will never work. Since I’m saying that teaching kids advanced concepts early on will make them interested in math, this is a circular argument and invalid. Other people claim that the kids will never understand because of some bullshit about needing logical constructs, which just doesn’t make sense because you should still introduce the concepts. Introducing a concept early on and having the student be confused about it is a good thing because it means they’ll try to work it out over time. The more time you give them, the more likely it will click. Besides, most students aren’t understanding algebra with the current system anyway, so I fail to see the point of that argument. It’s not working now so don’t try to change it or you’ll make it worse? That’s just pathetic.
TL;DR: Stop teaching kids stupid, pointless math they won’t need and maybe they won’t rightfully conclude that what they are being taught is useless.