Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not defending your own turf (hooray!)

We always expect people to be evangelists for their own professions. So it was really refreshing to read this article by a University of Chicago Math professor about how, for 95% of the population, math is basically useless after 9th grade or so.

Here's an excerpt:

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This "nation at risk" has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?


Zeyev said...

OK, so we don't need to balance our checkbooks. And we don't need to have a basic understanding of the lies the politicians tell us when they discuss reducing deficits. And we don't need to understand that a sale does not save you money; saving saves you money. Of course not. Because any of these would require basic skills in mathematics.

Snarky response from someone whose sister was a math major and whose brother was a nuclear-power engineer.

I can understand that most of us would rarely if ever need to know calculus. And, if we're not in certain professions, we may not need geometry when we grow up. But our cashiers don't know how to count change if the register doesn't do it for them. I hope the professor wasn't suggesting that our math literacy is anywhere near what it needs to be.

shesthesheriff said...

Well Zeyev if they did teach about the stuff you're talking about they'd be in danger of making math class fun. Even my 'progressive' (expensive) private high school was only to make math slightly more enjoyable than a colonoscopy.

I think this prof would agree that people lose tremendous amounts of money because they're unaware of the probabilities involved in casino games/slot machines/lotto tickets. "the house always wins" seems like a good idea for an elective style HS math course.