Created By: TwinBird on March 14, 2011 Last Edited By: randomsurfer on July 25, 2014

Kindergarten Calculus

In the future, young kids will take advanced science and math courses.

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Up for Grabs, Needs a Better Description, Needs a Better Title

In the future, children with take advanced math and science courses at a drastically younger age than is the norm right now. This is often used to show that in the future education standards are higher and more demanding than in the present. From what we know of history this is Truth in Television; in the Middle Ages algebra was the highest level math one could study. Now it's taught to thirteen year olds.

Not to be confused with E = MC Hammer which is when characters are doing course work laughably too advanced for their level in works set in the present.

    Comic Books 
  • In the original Superman comics by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, there's an establishing scene on Krypton wherein a mother bemoans that their child is in third grade and cannot yet do Calculus. The father comments that "He's a trifle backward", but it's okay, because he should understand it next year, when he's three.

     Literature 
  • In much of the Alice, Girl from the Future series, the titular heroine is around 11-12 year old, and is part of a genetic engineering research team. The rest of the team is the same age.
  • In the Animorphs series, Ax is fluent in physics, mathematics and computer science far beyond the level of human experts, due to having what amounts to a high school level education in the more technologically advanced Andalite culture, despite Andalites not being appreciably smarter than humans.

    Live Action TV 
  • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data's observations of human behavior include a boy, about 10-11, complaining about calculus and his father assuring him that he'll need it "in today's world" when he's older.
  • Phil of the Future: A boy from the future, Phil, is sent back to our present where he is forced to attend public high school where his teacher asks the class to solve a problem that even the brightest minds have trouble with. Phil is able to solve it in seconds, since, where he's from, they teach that problem in kindergarten.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Jetsons, George laments the declining standards of education that Elroy (age 6 1/2) is only just beginning calculus.
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • March 14, 2011
    Fanra
    It may be that Writers Cannot Do Math, but they know two things: that as the world's become more centered on more complicated technology, the amount of technical knowledge required of the average person has been on a steady upswing...rather than being arcane knowledge, will become something every adult needs simply to get by.

    Nope. Advanced technology tends to instead split society into classes where a small number need to know such things but the majority does not. In fact, in some ways the opposite has happened. For example, to do your own taxes used to require quite a bit of work and reading and figuring out what the tax booklets meant. Now you just fire up tax software, answer the questions and are done.

    When TV was invented (to use the most popular example) there was a lot of stories about "how does it work" and such. The answer for most people is, "You turn it on and this knob changes channels and this one adjusts the volume".

    The AK-47 was a breakthrough in advanced rifle technology, yet kids in primitive tribes manage to use it. Do they use it as well as someone who has training and understanding? No, but it still works.

    Now, this can still be a trope, but please don't try to claim that reality follows this.

    What is true, however, is that people have to learn very limited specific skills to use their smartphone and computer. But general scientific knowledge (like calculus) is actually worthless for that.

    Describing how a car drives along, and the design principles, and repair principles are very complex with lots of physics and calculus. But almost anyone can put the key in the ignition and drive it.

    Flying an airplane is harder but the future will only make that easier, in fact, you can predict in 50 or so years people can own their own helicopters and private planes with zero flight knowledge because the computer on board communicates with the air traffic control and flies it for them.
  • March 14, 2011
    fulltimeD
    re: the Star Trek TNG example: I think you're confusing two different episodes there. Still counts though, but that father/son conflict had nothing to do with Data's observations
  • March 14, 2011
    HouseAbsolute
    In Literature, Orbital Resonance by John Barnes shows children learning computer programming impossible in today's world at a very young age. The book is set only half a century in the future. Also the central topics of education in the book's universe are computing, semiotics, and language.
  • March 14, 2011
    TwinBird
    @Fanra: Wishful thinking. Before the printing press, there was no stigma to illiteracy. Although forty years ago you'd have needed much more knowledge to do anything meaningful, the level of computer literacy we take for granted today would have been well beyond anyone but the people with that level of knowledge. Just the concept of bits and bytes requires information theory that didn't exist a few hundred years ago. If planes become as accessible as cars are today, loads of what we now call flight jargon will become common sense, even though it won't be quite as much as a pilot today needs to know. Just keeping a car at speed requires a grasp of friction and momentum that would have been specialized knowledge a hundred years ago. The current trend in computers has shifted from simplicity toward robustness, reflecting a greater demand for functionality that, although fundamentally unchanged over the past twenty years, the average user then - who in those days would have been quite a bit brighter than the average person - wouldn't have heard of.

    Calculus is not "general scientific knowledge." It's a basic tool for finding the rate of change or aggregate effect of a function. Already a specialized form of it is taught to businessmen - not economists, businessmen - to keep track of their assets. If you plan to track anything at all in continuous time, you need it. If you plan to tally any increase or decrease over a period of continuous time, you need it. If you plan to resolve any problem that resembles Zeno's paradoxes, you need it. The innumerate are fortunate that so far it's been possible to restrict the functions enough to abstract this away at the bottom level. With the floor rising both in terms of pervasiveness and in general prowess, this is likely to change.
  • March 14, 2011
    Fanra
    Just keeping a car at speed requires a grasp of friction and momentum that would have been specialized knowledge a hundred years ago.

    I guarantee that 95% of people driving around the world do not use calculus, nor any formal education to drive. It is learned by doing it and watching, there is no formal education at all.

    Yes, reading is needed to get by in modern society, I will grant that. So is basic arithmetic (to handle money), but beyond that, most people do not use the rest of their education most of the time.

    Computer literacy has nothing to do with calculus, as I said, it is a specialized knowledge, along with how to use a smartphone, X Box, PS 3, etc, that has no use other then in using similar devices.
  • March 15, 2011
    TwinBird
    The very existence of a measurable instantaneous speed is a concept from calculus.

    No, computer literacy doesn't require calculus per se. But the ability to grasp something as simple as bits and bytes is something not to be taken for granted. Even the ability to read, as simple as it might sound, is a very complicated skill (especially in this language) that you've been forced to learn in early childhood because of technology - much less the ability to read at sight, which would have been akin to ventriloquism a thousand years ago. You only take it for granted because you've been raised with it. There's nothing inherently terrifying about calculus; it's just where it is right now in our education system.
  • March 15, 2011
    INUH
    I'd like this trope were the writeup less Anvilicious.
  • March 15, 2011
    nrjxll
    ^Anvilicious isn't really the right term, but it definitely comes across as, shall we say, preachy.
  • March 16, 2011
    Fanra
    Strangely enough, the only examples I can think of are the exact opposite of this trope.

    • "The Little Black Bag" is a short story by science fiction author Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published 1950. It is a prequel of sorts to the story "The Marching Morons". It won the 2001 Retroactive Hugo Award for Best Novelette (of 1951) and was also recognized as the 13th best all-time short science fiction story in a 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll. In the story, in the future, humanity has split into a small minority of supergeniuses and those of normal intelligence, and a much larger group of dimwits. The vast majority are stupid. Yet very stupid physicians manage to treat their patients using a high tech medical bag (the bag in the title). The doctors just follow the instructions without really understanding medicine.
    • "The Feeling of Power" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. The story first appeared in 1958. In the distant future, humans live in a computer-aided society and have forgotten the fundamentals of mathematics, including even the rudimentary skill of counting.
  • March 16, 2011
    Aminatep
    The title needs to be changed. It's People Sit On Chairs.

    I took calculus in eigth grade, and that wasn't a super special school or something
  • March 16, 2011
    INUH
    ^A title can't be People Sit On Chairs; that's not what People Sit On Chairs means. PSOC is something that's observable in a work but isn't used to convey any meaning.

    That said, the title does need changing. "Early Calculus" or "Young Calculus" might be better.
  • March 16, 2011
    batgirl1
    • In the original Superman comics by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, there's an Establishing Scene on Krypton wherein a mother bemoans that their child is in third(?) grade and cannot yet do Calculus. The father comments that "He's a trifle backward", but it's okay, because he should understand it next year, when he's three.
  • March 16, 2011
    peccantis
    What is eight grade? Is it part of obligatory schooling? Is it where kids go when they're 14 or 18? What does the eight grade Maths curriculum include?
  • March 17, 2011
    WackyMeetsPractical
    • Phil Of The Future: A boy from the future, Phil, is sent back to our present where he is forced to attend public high school where his teacher asks the class to solve a problem that even the brightest minds have trouble with. Phil is able to solve it in seconds, since, where he's from, they teach that problem in kindergarten. IIRC
  • March 17, 2011
    TwinBird
    @peccantis: 13. The usual math is - let's see - MA guidelines say irrational numbers, integer exponents and roots, proportions, linear equations, functions, congruence, Pythagorean theorem, volumes of common solids, linear regression. So... yeah.

    Yeah, "Eighth Grade Calculus" isn't a good title, but "Early Calculus"/"Young Calculus" isn't all that evocative.
  • February 19, 2012
    Catbert
    This seems to have devolved into an argument about the description and the title, but is otherwise a good idea.

    I changed the description around a bit and I'm broadening the idea to all maths and sciences. Do someone want to take this over?

    Up For Grabs
  • February 26, 2012
    TBeholder
    and, um, what's the note- let alone trope- worthy in it? that this contradicts the current trend of changes in the opposite direction somewhere?
  • February 26, 2012
    Catbert
    Tropes aren't only for things that break every known law of existence. We aren't a Purely Impossible Fantasy Tropes page. Including story conventions that are based upon extrapolations of current trends is still a trope.
  • February 26, 2012
    Ultrayellow
    Why don't we alter this trope to be about the idea that people in the future will be much smarter and have much more scientific and mathematic knowledge? It doesn't have to be correct to be a trope. But the idea itself is very popular.
  • February 26, 2012
    morenohijazo
    I don't know if this fits here since it's not about the future, but in the Discworld book Thief Of Time, Susan is teaching to the children subjects beyond their age, much to the annoy of the school principal.
  • February 26, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Umlaut House 2 a high school English project is to rewrite one of Shakespeare's plays Rosencrantz And Guildenstern style. Oh, and Pierce started Calculus when he was ten, but he's implied to be something of a prodigy.
  • February 26, 2012
    TonyG
    On the Peanuts special "Happy New Year, Charlie Brown", Charlie has to read War And Peace over winter break. Just what grade is this kid in, anyway?
  • March 6, 2012
    TBeholder
    ^^^^^ Yeah. So, what's next? Elementary School Reading?
  • March 6, 2012
    Omeganian
    In much of the Alice Girl From The Future series, the titular heroine is around 11-12 year old, and is part of a genetic engineering research team. The rest of the team is the same age.
  • May 21, 2012
    Perey
    Title: Perhaps Kindergarten Kalculus? (With or without the K.) Go for broke on the hyperbole.

    Related YKTTW: Calculus Is Arcane Knowledge. Quite possibly Opposite Tropes; also, much conversation about "what counts as calculus?" and "how hard is it, really?" is going on in both discussions.

    Reality: Peccantis, that curriculum sounds about the same as an Australian one; no mention of calculus anywhere. I'm sorry, Aminatep, but I hope you're getting the idea by now that while the suggested title is Truth In Television in your case, it's not for most people and most maths curriculums. If you say it's People Sit On Chairs, then the rest of us must have made do with cushions on the floor. ;-)

    Examples: A variant is when some other group that stereotypically doesn't "get" high-tech stuff (like the elderly) will get Techno Babble that sounds advanced to us, but is of course treated as old-fashioned in the setting.
    • You can get a mission in Naev where you must ferry a chatty old woman to another star system. She spends most of the trip reminiscing, like so:
    "You youngsters and your newfangled triple redundancy plasma feedback shunts. In my day, we had to use simple monopole instaconductors to keep our hyperdrives running!"
  • May 21, 2012
    TBeholder
    No, really, where's the trope here?
  • May 21, 2012
    Desertopa
    In the Animorphs series, Ax is fluent in physics, mathematics and computer science far beyond the level of human experts, due to having what amounts to a high school level education in the more technologically advanced Andalite culture, despite Andalites not being appreciably smarter than humans.
  • May 21, 2012
    Tzintzuntzan
    I think the trope is supposed to be (IIUC) a science fiction series which casually reveals that in the future, everybody learns things that are considered incredibly advanced today.

    The only example I can think of is Futurama, where 20th-Century college dropout Fry discovers that thanks to advances in science, he knows about as much as a 30th Century high school dropout. His response, of course, is to indignantly declare that he will go to college again and drop out all over again.

    Maybe this trope could also be expanded to include any "future people have very different standards," not just smarter ones. So it would also include Idiocracy, where due to future stupidity, a typical IQ test question is "If you have 1 bucket with 2 apples and another bucket with 5 apples, how many buckets do you have?"
  • May 21, 2012
    Desertopa
    It would take very little tweaking to turn it into "As society becomes higher tech, basic minimum expectations for education rise." The Animorphs example I just gave doesn't deal with humans in the future, but it does deal with an individual whose natural intelligence is no greater than a human's (indeed, in some ways the Andalites are implied to be somewhat less intelligent than humans,) having far greater math and science fluency because he comes from a more technologically advanced culture.
  • May 23, 2012
    nlpnt
    Real Life example with reading; until the 1970s, the standard was for kindergartners to finish the year ready to start reading in first grade. Now, many parents who are [[Education Mama involved in their kids' education expect reading readiness to be taught in preschool and are disappointed if the kid doesn't start kindergarten already reading.
  • October 5, 2012
    johnnye
    Necro Bump.

    I like Kindergarten Calculus. It's (slightly) more cross-culturally comprehensible - I have no idea what "Middle School" refers to, and I have no way to work it out from context (for all I know, it could be somewhere you go between high school and college). And the hyperbole makes it clearer what the trope is.
  • October 5, 2012
    JonnyB
    Or how about Kiddie Calculus? (or alliteravely, Kiddie Kalculus? I like Perry's idea.)

    I seem to recall a STTNG episode where it was Worf's son Alexander who was complaining about calculus.
  • October 6, 2012
    SteamGoth
    Maybe we shouldn't have "calculus" in the title at all; it is causing too much confusion and consternation and it gives the wrong idea of what (I think) the trope is supposed to be.

    If I'm reading this right, the trope is "Futuristic education standards will be substantially higher than modern ones, with high school or college-level work being normal elementary school curriculum." The replies have included reading examples, though this trope is most commonly shown regarding math and science.

    Sadly, I have no suggestions for actual titles.
  • October 6, 2012
    mythbuster
    History demonstrates an inversion: algebra was the most advanced math in the middle ages, but today it is taught to middle school students.
  • October 6, 2012
    Topazan
    ^ That's not an inversion, that's the trope played straight.
  • October 6, 2012
    JonnyB
    Leave "Calculus" in: It's a memetic word everyone understands as "very hard math" so it sets the bar high, and it's also an Inherently Funny Word.
  • October 6, 2012
    aurora369
    Soviet high school standards included basic-level calculus.
  • March 7, 2014
    DAN004
    What about restarting the YKTTW?
  • March 7, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    Okay. Added the examples that seemed to fit in with what this is. Added a line to the description and changed it to the title that looked like it had the most support.
  • March 7, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Added Elroy's age to the Jetsons example for the benefit of those who aren't so terribly familiar with the show.
  • March 7, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    ^ you might have to redo that. I think our edits were right on top of each other.
  • March 10, 2014
    AgProv
    Truth In Television:
    • I recall in school, way back in the 1970's, my physics teacher remarking that at age thirteen, we were getting to grips with scientific concepts that even a century before would have been cutting-edge material, only accessible to professorial-level scientists at universities. He discussed how long it takes for cutting-edge science to drift down the educational structure and become routine teaching in schools, and speculated that at the current level of progress, it might take forty years for what was currently taught at postgraduate level in university to become part of the school syllabus. He was probably right: in the early 1970's, quantum physics was new and cutting-edge; today, it is at least touched upon in classroom teaching!
  • March 10, 2014
    xanderiskander
    ^ That real life example sounds like a This Troper example since it's written in first person with personal experiences. And we don't do those anymore.
  • July 25, 2014
    DAN004
    Bumpeth
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=k630z0abstai74m1ndyby61i