First: I love math. I think it's critical. I was the first female in my high school to ever pass the AP calculus exam. My ability to do calculus and statistics got me my first professional job in Human Resources.
And I don't think everyone should have to learn advanced math. Basic math, yes. Calculus? No.
Students staged a sit-in at Manhattan's LaGuardia High School to protest an increased focus on academics. Now, normally I would say that the kids should stop whining and do their homework, but this high school is a performing arts school made famous in Fame--the movie and television show. You remember, Fame, right? "I'm gonna live forever!"
This is an arts school. And while every student should be well rounded, we shouldn't reject someone's dream to develop one talent, just because they don't have all the talents.
The New York Times quotes Eryka Anabell an 18-year-old senior: "We're not here to be the most perfect mathematicians. If I wanted to do that I would have gone to Stuyvesant. I'm here to discover myself as an artist."
Just as not everybody needs to learn to dance, not everyone needs to learn advanced mathematics. They aren't exclusive, of course--you can be a biologist and a dancer, or a cellist and an English professor. But, it's ridiculous to require people to be both.
It's also ridiculous to assume that people who study advanced music don't do difficult academic work. Music theory is extremely complicated and requires a different kind of advanced thinking.
Different jobs require different skill sets and this world would be a miserable place if we didn't acknowledge that. While I got my first professional HR job based on my statistical ability, I haven't actually done anything more than basic percentages in 15 years. Unless I do a dramatic career shift, I probably won't do statistics again. And that's fine.
Sometimes we focus too much on the idea of schools being to create well-rounded citizens, but no one is pushing for Stuyvesant to have an arts audition component to their admission. It's a school that focuses on academics and not the arts. (I do think, that arts should be just as available to students as math is.)
The same goes for students who want to pursue blue collar jobs. College isn't and shouldn't be for everyone. If you want to be an auto mechanic it makes sense to take classes that will gear you up for just such a job. This probably includes some pretty advanced math, but probably doesn't include the ability to analyze poetry. Would it be great if everyone could do everything? No. Because then we'd all be mediocre in everything. I prefer a world that develops greatness.