Why crypto in high school?

So I was out to dinner this evening with some old friends — no, not “old” friends in that sense, but “old friends” if you know what I mean — and one of them was surprised that cryptography is effectively a graduation requirement at Weston. Now that’s not quite literally true, in the sense that it’s not listed among the graduation requirements, but it’s definitely indirectly true: Algebra II is a graduation requirement, and cryptography is a component of our Algebra II course at both the college-prep and honors levels.

So what’s up with that?

The first answer is our traditional set of justifications (traditional? well….): Cryptology is the #1 application of mathematics today, as seen in the fact the the NSA employs more mathematicians than any other organization in the world; it’s a real-world application with an enormous amount of contemporary interest; and it exercises a lot of important mathematical concepts, such as inverses, functions, mods, multiple representations, and so forth. All of these are true, whether you find them compelling or not.

You may also be interested in this page on cryptology in Irish schools, just to show you that it’s not purely an American phenomenon.

But why do so few American high schools even offer cryptology, no less require it? Hmmm…. The answer probably is a vicious circle: very few teachers know it, so very few teach it, so the graduates don’t know it, etc., etc.


Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston