Monday, July 28, 2008

No wonder lottery tickets sell...

The lamentable state of math education in the US has made the category of "intellectual" somewhat contradictory, considering how few educated folks can add up the tab at the bar, let alone understand tax policy.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I think the lack of respect for math and science is one of the largest unacknowledged problems in today's society. And it starts in the academy-- somehow, we have moved to a place where people can consider themselves educated while remaining ignorant of remarkably basic facts of math and science. If I admit an ignorance of art or music, I get sideways looks, but if I argue for taking a stronger line on math and science requirements, I'm being unreasonable. The arts are essential, but Math Is Hard, and I just need to accept that not everybody can handle it.

This has real consequences for society, and not just in the usual "without math, we won't be able to maintain our technical edge, and the Chinese will crush us in a few years" sense. You don't need to look past the front section of the paper-- our economy is teetering because people can't hack the math needed to understand how big a loan they can afford. We're not talking about vector calculus or analytical geometry here-- we're mired in an economic crisis because millions of our citizens can't do arithmetic. And that state of affairs has come about in no small part because the people running the academy these days have no personal appreciation of math, and thus no qualms about coddling innumeracy. [More]
Still, innumerate people are still people.  But it does help to remember why mathematical evidence seems to carry very little weight in policy debates.

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