The Value of Math

What a great observation: people who think math is useless don’t know how to do it. It’s a simple case of sour grapes, made worse by a weird perception that it’s “math vs. English”.

I’m a college math major myself, and in school, I tutored a variety of people who had all kinds of preconceptions getting in their way. I seemed to have some luck treating calculus as another language, one they had to have translated for them … it got them through the basics, anyway. Anyone can do math if they approach it properly, just as anyone can dance if taught well. They may not be great at it or feel it comes naturally, but the basics are learnable by anyone willing to work to do so.


6 Responses to “The Value of Math”

  1. Dave Carter Says:

    Well said. The low level of basic numeracy in this country–and its casual acceptance–is shocking. I think it also deserves much of the blame for the state that our county is in, as it is far too easy for politicians and other special interests to lie-with-statistics and get away with it.

    What we need is for the same level of attention to be brought to numeracy as to literacy. Or any attention, for that matter.

  2. Brigid Alverson Says:

    I agree 100 percent! I think good teaching has a lot to do with it. My sister is a math professor, and many of her students comment that they thought they hated math until they took her class.

    I also agree with your insight that learning math is like learning a language. I often use that approach when I’m tutoring. Especially in the advanced classes, students have to get used to the notation before they can really grasp the material. I had an advanced physics course that used a lot of Greek letters for variables, and I found it helpful to translate them to English letters when I was doing calculations. Something as simple as that can make a big difference when you’re starting out.

    And Dave is right about numeracy. When I was covering local news, I spent a lot of time analyzing things like the city budget, traffic studies, engineering reports, etc. These things have a huge impact on our everyday lives, yet they are easy to dismiss or misinterpret, especially if numbers make your eyes roll up into the back of your head.

  3. Michael Denton Says:

    Well, my BA is in English and I certainly don’t find math useless, but some of it can be durn hard. I only resent it when it’s used against me in a standardized test (particularly since none of my fields of interest have ever had math as a heavy necessity).

    And I’ve never quite figured out why, but some areas of math were difficult for me but others weren’t. For instance, alegbra was, and still is, a bear to me. Geometry and Trig, however, mad a lot more sense. I remember enjoying matrices in Advanced Algebra. Calc I type stuff was difficult, but Calc II was pretty simple. Some of this may have to do with the teacher, but my high school Calculus teacher was a very good teacher, it’s just that limits drove me crazy. So, I earned enough AP credit and placed well enough on my college math exam that I took Trig and Calc II to fulfill my math requirements because I find them easier than Algebra and Calc I.

  4. chris Says:

    “I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it.”

    As a Bachelor of Science degree holder in mathematics, this is one of my pet peeves. Far too many journalists not only don’t understand math, they don’t bother to try. This leads to news and analysis rife with misunderstandings and misapplications of economics and of principles of logic, such as the difference between correlation and causation. This makes it easier for the politicians and special interests to fool the public.

    Another of my pet peeves, not mentioned in the commentary, is the idea that girls aren’t expected to do well in math– an idea that my niece believes as much as the idea that comics are for boys only. *grin*

  5. Scott Says:

    I agree with you up until the dancing part… my wife would question that postulate.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I helped teach a ballroom dance class for a brief time, and I taught some really resistant guys to at least feel comfortable with the steps. So by my experience, it’s possible.

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