## How Much Math Do We Really Need? 1153

Posted
by
samzenpus

from the factor-your-future dept.

from the factor-your-future dept.

Pickens writes

*"G.V. Ramanathan, a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in the Washington Post that although a lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential, unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everybody's daily life. 'All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss,' writes Ramanathan. 'Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.' Ramanathan says that the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body, but even with generous government grants over the past 25 years, countless courses, conferences, and books written on how to teach teachers to teach, where is the evidence that these efforts have helped students? A 2008 review by the Education Department found that the nation is at 'greater risk now' than it was in 1983, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores for 17-year-olds have remained stagnant since the 1980s (PDF). Meanwhile those who do love math and science have been doing very well and our graduate schools are the best in the world. '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?'"*
## A little more (Score:5, Insightful)

We could use, at least, a basic understanding of probability..

## Re:A little more (Score:5, Insightful)

## Re:A little more (Score:5, Funny)

I was just thinking the same thing!!

Are you listening to my thoughts?

## Re:A little more (Score:5, Funny)

I was just thinking the same thing!!

Are you listening to my thoughts?

That joke works better when you think it to yourself. Then everyone can have a good laugh.

## Re:A little more (Score:4, Interesting)

Understanding it and applying it aren't the same thing. I know lots of people who are much much much better at maths than I am and still can't get their head around the concept of coincidence.

Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.-- Robert A. HeinleinI once read that quote to my father, who studied nuclear physics at the University of Rome, and had been an electronics engineer for much of his career, and I remember him saying, "Well, I'm sure he believes that." Personally, speaking as a software engineer, I do wish I had studied more higher math in college, because it would help me do more. More and better mental tools rarely hurt. But, to be honest, that really hasn't affected my earning power in the slightest.

## Re:A little more (Score:4, Insightful)

## Re:A little more (Score:4, Funny)

his books did get really creepy when he got older...

But he does have some fantastic quotes:

there's the classic

"Specialization is for insects"

look it up.

and then a few other golden ones

"Progress doesn't come from early risers -- progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things."

"The whole principle is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak."

(On censorship)

"Age is not an accomplishment, and youth is not a sin."

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

Apparently he liked Mark Twain also:

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Interesting)

If anything, you've just proven the real corollary of the research in the article, and not the one in the article.

Math is a hard, specialised tool. Essential for many distinct types of specialists. It's what they call "fundamental".

Nonspecialists don't need it. They don't understand why specialists need so many variants of it. They don't understand how rigorous math can be useful is so many different ways to different specialists.

Is it the fault of the specialists?

Is it the fault of the public?

Not really, the public can't seem to grasp the idea that the benefit to mankind is in the details, and wonders why we need something that has no generalists.

Medecine and engineering are doing fine in the public view, because they can be understood, without the details, or so the public thinks.

If you understand math without the details, you're back at a grade school level, precisely because that's the point in the curriculum where they start preparing you for the different math specialties, and you're starting to get the grounding into the differences.

You invest in math education precisely to get the specialists, and to get research done in the specialties. Proving the return of specialties is harder but it still has to be done.

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Interesting)

The author's point, however is valid. We spend a large amount of time and money teaching people a lot of crap that most of them will never use. I'd venture a guess that less then 10% of the population needs any advanced math at all. The number may be higher, but I doubt it. Given that something on the order of 25-30% of the population of the US has an undergraduate degree, and of those 25-30% only the smaller number with a degree in science, math, engineering or an "applied science" like medical people, ever use any advanced math at all. For the vast majority of the rest, a few courses in basic statistics would probably be all the math they ever need beyond arithmetic.

The problem is that we don't *know* in 7th or 8th grade who is likely to need more math 5 or 6 years down the line. Most kids, if you tell them in 7th grade that they can stop taking math, they're going to. Then they hit junior or senior year of high school, realize they want to be an engineer, and they have none of the needed mathematical background. Basically we teach 4-5 years of advanced math to every student in the country, so that the 10-15% if them who will actually need it, have it. It's wasteful as Hell, but I can't think of a better way to do it without forcing life altering career choices on 13-14 year olds.

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

Teaching math isn't about teaching a specific skill that everyone will use, it's about teaching how to approach problems quantitatively. At least it should be. As someone pointed out in a post further down, a lot of us don't use literary analysis in day to day life either but the reason to learn it is that learning different topics that require critical and logical thinking will arm students with better methods to approach problems with.

A physicist may well benefit a great deal from from having gone to English class in high school. Sure they only use make use of the basics, like correct spelling and grammar, every day but the style of critical thinking that is exercised in literary analysis is additional tool that they have. Similarly, math teaches and practices a way of approaching problems that other subjects don't address.

Someone who has an education in only a range of topics that is limited to their interests will be a flat, bland and incapable person.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

"Someone who has an education in only a range of topics that is limited to their interests will be a flat, bland and incapable person."

Citation needed. More importantly, does it really matter? Plenty of people are boring, have limited interests and are very good at what they do.

"Similarly, math teaches and practices a way of approaching problems that other subjects don't address."

And these would be what exactly? Sorry, but logical thinking and criticial reasoning is the same regardless of specialty. Onl

## Need does not equal capacity (Score:5, Insightful)

It's even more than that. Without math, your ability to understand physics is compromised; and without physics basic and very practical things like your driving skills are going to suffer. People are *really* a lot better drivers when they can bring a realistic understanding of traction, inertia, kinetic energy and so forth to the driver's seat. But that's not all. Polls completely bewilder and mislead their readers without basic statistics; lotteries rob the probability-impaired (hence the joke, "lotteries are a tax for the math-impaired); people who don't have a good, intuitive understanding of what thousand, million, billion and trillion mean relative to each other are inherently incapable of forming useful opinions on federal budget issues (and consequently, are likely to vote in a random, haphazard manner more driven by crap like fox news than sense); it even leads to poor military strategy, an excellent example of which can presently be found in the Iraq war.

The pachyderm in the parlor, however, is the fact that if you take an IQ 100 person (or lower) and try to teach them math beyond the basics, you're not often going to get very far. People aren't born equal in capacity, and we can't fix that by applying more pressure to their foreheads, which is about what forced math classes do.

It's that whole thing about teaching pigs to dance. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

I can't think of a better way to do itTeach it to them when they do need it.

Personally I find most branches of maths to be mind numbingly boring and utterly irrelevant. Until the times I need them to solve an actual problem. In which case they suddenly become interesting and useful, and a whole lot easier to grasp beyond rote learning for a test.

Integrating the necessary maths into the disciplines that actually need them might perhaps take some more time, but I think it'd be less of a waste of time than the current situation and probably yield easier learning of the maths useful in those disciplines.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

Teach it to them when they do need it.

That's nice in principle, but poor in practice. There are some fields of mathematics that can be taught from scratch with little requirement for much other math outside of that little field. Those are few and far between however. If you've had any experience trying to teach math, even to people who need it, who don't have the necessary background, you'll understand. It is an extremely frustrating process for the student, because the reality is that mathematics is one of those subjects that is very hard to p

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

I see the big problem with math education is how it is taught. To be honest, there is no reason whatsoever we can't have taught kids basic differential equations by the time they hit 8th grade. The problem is we force students to memorize a bunch of obscure math that although we will use later in specialties, is totally pointless, out of context, and relatively useless at that point. And it is by rote and not by concept. In case you haven't noticed, memorizing vast amounts of crap is hard, but learning

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

>>We spend a large amount of time and money teaching people a lot of crap that most of them will never use.

This is a horrible way of thinking about it. A friend of my father's is a EE Professor at USC, who has studied all sorts of high level mathematics. He freely admits he's probably never going to use 90% of them, but what's important in life is

improving your toolboxso that you can solve the broadest range of problems possible. This doesn't just mean math, either - he passed the bar not too long a## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

The key point here is that as a high school student, you're not going to know where you're going to end up, or what opportunities will be opened/missed by having/not-having certain skills.Chances are that if you hate algebra and struggle to pass it, then a life in engineering or the physical sciences isn't going to be your cup of tea.

So, why make somebody try to prepare for a handful of careers that they are unlikely to pursue, and if they do pursue them most likely they'll never be able to outcompete someb

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

I'd add "order of magnitude estimation" to that list, becuase I find it regularly useful to make ballpark guesses about various issues. So, being able to do something like this, just to make something up as a calculation of the mass of the Earth:

The Earth is about 8000 miles across, but let's call it 10,000 in round numbers. It's a sphere, but if it were a cube, it would have a volume of 10K time 10K time 10K, or about 1,000,000,000,000 cubic miles. A mile is about 5000 feet, so a cubic mile is about 75,000,000,000 cubic feet, or about 100 billion cubic feet in round numbers. A bag of dirt is about a cubic foot and weighs about 40 pounds, but lets call it 100 pounds in round numbers and accounting for rock. So a cubic mile of Earth weighs about 10,000 billion pounds. So, the Earth weighs about 10 thousand billion trillion pounds. Or about 5 billion trillion tons.

Let's check how close I got? :-)

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/planet-earth-weigh.htm [howstuffworks.com]

6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (6E+24) kilograms.

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds (so, a little low if divided by 2.2)

10,000 * 1,000,000,000 * 1,000,000,000,000

Pretty close! :-)

Anyway, while that's a complicated calculation, and with big rounding errors in various places (compressed molten rock must weigh quite a bit more than topsoil since I rounded up a bunch), the more people who can do that sort of thing, the more people can make sense of a lot of public policy issues like comparing NASA's budget to the DOD budget, or understanding the amount of the economy goint to social security relative to education, or guessing how feasible some technical proposal is, and so on. The devil is in the details, of course, but order of magnitude estimation at least can put a sort of ballpark fence around the details. I used just facts I knew (diameter of the Earth, weight of a bag of soil) without precise details to get close. Often, in public policy, close is all you need to have a feel for the basics of a situation and to fact check what you are being told.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

We should be pushing to bring everyone up, notpulling back to give everyone the bare minimum.I don't think that's what OP wrote or meant.

Everyone, even those who "can't do math", in a modern society needs to *understand* percentages, orders of magnitude, estimation and basic statistics.

While I never use calculus at work, and obviously never at home, I frequently use the 4 items mentions above at work and I *constantly* use it while watching basketball and American Football.

It's also vital when thinking abo

## Re: (Score:3)

everyoneto learn differential equations by the time they finish high school. The problem is that people are afraid of math, not that they really can't do it. Less math won't fix that.## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

We should be pushing foreveryoneto learn differential equations by the time they finish high school.ROFLMAO.

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

No.

I went to high school 6 years ago, and we learned nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. The entire day was a complete and utter waste. The problem was the pace. Everyone assumes kids are stupid, so they teach us slowly. If they did a better job teaching, it would be trivial to reach a meaningful depth in every subject.

I'm not promoting math at the expensive of other subjects. I'm saying every subject is woefully under taught.

Actually, I think we should pull back on subjects like "standardized test preparation." We're taught to pass idiotic tests, so all we ever learn is idiocy.

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

With Math, or anything else probably, it's now so much "how much you know" but "how well you know it". It's the old "quality" versus "quantity" problem. There are plenty of concepts that would be useful to understand just from a basic life skills perspective that most people simply don't get. Something as simple as compound interest is lost on most people and that's a pretty basic mathematical idea. Applied math can be a very handy thing. However, most maths education goes out of it's way to avoid any sort of real world relevance at all.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

Yes, but that's exactly the situation. That's why there are so many credit card users and mortgaged-to-the-hilt home"owners" in the US; because people really

don'tunderstand compound interest. Anyone who does and has even a lick of sense will never let a lender get into that kind of position over them... it's just a highly accel## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

"To everyone else it's a waste of time which could be spent far better learning things which might ever be useful to them."

Exactly what? Grammar, history, geography, physics, basketball? Which one of these is important or useful?

In mathematics the basics are not about being directly important. They prepare your mind for the harder stuff. One of the basic things to learn is exactly that there are things that are NOT easily translated into direct day-to-day practice, but this doesn't mean they are useless. Ma

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:4, Insightful)

The problem of history, economics and political science is that many of the sources are actually the work of "manipulative talking heads".

## Re:What we do/don't need in Calculus. (Score:5, Insightful)

One of the things I found frustrating about calculus was that we had a lot of drill, with little or no explanation of what we were being drilled upon.

For instance, I remember spending about two weeks on l'Hospital's rule, in two different classes. One instructor laboriously worked through proofs, and was scrupulous about terminology. The other instructor offered cute mnemonic devices. The same textbook was used both times: a paragraph introducing l'Hospital's rule talked about a "struggle" between two derivatives with an uncertain conclusion. It was clearly an incomplete thought.

Later, it dawned on me that it amounted to, "If you can't work out what happens when comparing two rates of change, try comparing the rates of change of the rates of change. Recurse as needed." That, some of the caveats, and a few illustrative sketches would have explained it clearly in a single lecture; a handful of problems would have verified that I understood it. Instead, I got weeks of confusing lectures and about a hundred increasingly complicated problems that drilled me on a procedure that, at that point, I didn't understand.

If you don't understand the point of the procedure, how are you to recognize when it would be useful to apply it, if it's outside the context of a homework problem set or an exam? Yet there never seemed to be any concern with whether we understood mathematics conceptually, only whether we could grind through meaningless assignments.

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

The same without forcing kids to waste huge numbers of hours.

Let them use those hours learning something else(I know, I know, it's heresy to suggest that other subjects might be more useful than math for some people.) rather than pissing their time away on something they don't need.

## Wot no Google? (Score:3, Insightful)

People try to do really dumb stuff (at a national and global level) when they don't understand the maths of what they're going. Drill Drill Drill springs to mind. A little maths goes a long way.

Having said that, getting rid of the hard stuff from school would provide a larger underclass to exploit, which is quite handy from a corporate point of view.

Education, funnily enough isn't just about what's needed.

## How to do better...(growth, civics, or obedience?) (Score:4, Interesting)

People know how to do better: http://www.educationrevolution.org/ [educationrevolution.org]

We don't for all sorts fo reasons related to social power (see John Taylor Gatto).

See also my essay on learning "on demand" instead of learning "just in case":

"Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools"

http://patapata.sourceforge.net/WhyEducationalTechnologyHasFailedSchools.html [sourceforge.net]

Education can have several goals in this descending order:

* To help a person grow as a person

* To help a person be a good citizen

* To shape a person into someone elses' vision of a good consumer and good worker and, for a few, a good obedient professional with the "right" politics

Those three aspects of "education" are regularly confused, and usually most of formal schooling (especially when test-driven) has to do with the last of the three which is often at odds with the first two.

See also for how the third aspect goes on into grad school:

http://disciplinedminds.tripod.com/ [tripod.com]

## Re:Wot no Google? (Score:5, Insightful)

Even people that go on to college can benefit from votech skills. A lot of this stuff works out to be basic survival skills in a highly technological society where being able to fix your house or your car or your TV is of considerable advantage. It helps even if you don't want to do the work yourself. It allows you to understand the work well enough to properly judge it and shop for it as a consumer.

It's like anything else that seems unecessary in education. Understanding the world allows people to make better informed choices.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

We could use, at least, a basic understanding of probability..

I don't know. All the math gives you is measure theory and some operations on sets. What you're talking about is getting outside the purview of mathematics. Now you're talking about philosophy, almost metaphysics...

Me, I "get" Kolmogorov's axioms, but I still don't truly understand how they map to reality -- or why we should believe that they do. And among people who

dobelieve that probability theory describes reality, there isn't even really agreement; you've got Bayesians (and isn't this point of vie## Re:A little more (Score:5, Insightful)

"Lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math."

## Re:A little more (Score:5, Interesting)

The important value isn't the expected value of one's net winnings (perhaps -$0.50 for the lottery player and $0 for the abstainer), but the expectation of the

utilityof one's net winnings (for example, u(0-1)*(1-1/2000000)+u(1000000-1)*1/2000000 versus u(0) ).The arrogance inherent in your statement becomes glaringly obvious in these terms. Implicitly, you are claiming knowledge of the utility of money to lottery players, while simultaneously denying such knowledge to the lottery players themselves.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

Oh it works.... most of the time... and assuming you have a really big pile of money.

though the *everyone loses* 00 slot in the wheel makes it a bad choice for roulette.

It's better than what most people do, which is the exact opposite.

"I won again? I must be having a winning streak! everything on black!"

increasing your bet every time you win(what a lot of people do) close to guarantees losing it all.

Doubling your bet every time you lose almost guarantees you'll win but you're risking orders of magnitude mor

## Re:Just look at China (Score:4, Informative)

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

But then the casinos would all collapse...

And nothing of value was lost.

## Re:A little more (Score:5, Insightful)

and statistics... Wouldn't want everyone freaking out after every low-n medical study that comes out(IE "SMOKING MAKES YOU HEALTHIER!").

Funny you should mention statistics (and have it buried in the word salad here). Basic statistics isn't hard but doesn't seem to be taught anywhere other than statistics courses (obviously I could be wrong but I don't see any general trend towards teaching stats).

Even in pre Med, statistics is way behind calculus (which you won't use much) and Algebra (likewise). Understanding virtually

allcurrent medical literature requires a fairly good grasp of statistics. Otherwise you're left to the mercy of the authors which is never a good situation.I've taught remedial stats in residency programs. Really shouldn't have to to that. Of course I said the same after teaching basic English sentence structure as a grad student while TA'ing undergrad biology courses...

## Exponential growth (Score:5, Insightful)

One part of math all people should be required to understand is exponential growth.

It might make people realize that population growth, resource consumption, etc. can't keep increasing at current levels without severe corrections in the somewhat close future.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

That's still relatively basic math. I think the message is that people don't really need to understand calculus, but they do need to understand things like exponents, single variable equation solving, and the general concepts behind statistics (population vs sample, general best practices for conducting a study [and thus how to determine if a study is even remotely unbiased], margin of error).

Understanding of derivatives and integrals isn't needed for everyday life, but those basics can very well be used.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

I, for one, hope they continue to teach calculus in schools.

Everything you learn up to calculus is basically arithmetic. With algebra, you get into some more complicated math, but it still seems like just adding and multiplying, which you've been doing for years by then. It's not really very interesting.

But calculus,

oh boy. There is some interesting mathematics in there. In fact, I'd say that this is the first exposure students get to "real" math, with analysis rolled in for fun. Not to mention with calcul## Re:Exponential growth (Score:4, Interesting)

I see another angle of this "how much math do we really need?" notion.

If we all lived in a country, like China, where we didn't pick our leaders, then no, we really don't need to understand much math, and we don't even need to understand exponential growth, because theoretically, smarter, better-educated people are studying those issues you list and making decisions for everyone. This is why China can get away with a one-child-per-couple policy even though I'm sure it's not exactly popular.

However, in democratic countries like ours, every moron has a vote, so politicians pander to the lowest common denominator. So the higher you can raise that denominator, the better off society will be in the long term, because effectively, we're all making the decisions by electing our leaders, and if the bulk of the population is ignorant of the effects of exponential growth, disaster will eventually ensue.

## What schools were for.... (Score:4, Insightful)

So the higher you can raise that denominator, the better off society will be in the long term, because effectively, we're all making the decisions by electing our leaders, and if the bulk of the population is ignorant of the effects of exponential growth, disaster will eventually ensue.

That's why our public education was originally created - to have an educated electorate. Then somehow over the years, our education became job training - even at the university level.

Whenever I hear a business leader complain that our schools aren't producing "educated workers" my blood boils - and I can understand the folks who rant about "corporatism".

## Re:What schools were for.... (history) (Score:5, Interesting)

For more of the history of school: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]

A key section is here:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/gatto/gatto-uhae-16.html [lewrockwell.com]

as part of another archive:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/gatto/gatto-arch.html [lewrockwell.com]

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

Funny you should say that - I dropped out of A-level maths (a combined pure and applied course) because I was crap at it.

A few years later, I was doing a placement in a school and the head of physics - who believed that papers were getting easier - showed me a physics A-level paper. I didn't think it looked that challenging, even allowing for my dismal attempt at A-level maths.

(For those who don't know, A-level physics and applied maths in the UK were - at least at the time - very similar).

I've already all

## Not much (Score:4, Funny)

## Re:Not much (Score:5, Funny)

This the bill is 12.75, the guy gives you 20 euro and 75 cents, what change do you give him? ARrrrrrrrrrrgh WHY DID YOU GIVE ME 75 cents! You ruined my life! 6,7,8,9? Just take your 75 cents back for christ sake. 7.35.

I'd have liked a little less linear programming and geometry (which i excelled at) and a little more practical math, that way maybe I could have a normal job now if I wanted one.

## Re:Not much (Score:4, Funny)

20.00-12.75=7.35

O I C Y U Got fired.

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

The rule for that is really simple: if someone owes you 12.75, and they pay you 20.75, then just pretend they owed you 12 and paid you 20. As long as the value of the coins is exactly the same, they just cancel out and all you have to do is deal with the bills.

## Re:Not much literature either (Score:5, Insightful)

Speaking as someone with a degree in Physics, I can safely say that I've only used literary analysis one time in my life: when learning it in school.

## Re:Not much literature either (Score:4, Funny)

Speaking as someone with a degree in Physics, I can safely say that I've only used literary analysis one time in my life: when learning it in school.

That explains why so many physicists don't understand that Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment was a literary euphemism for sex.

## Re:Not much literature either (Score:5, Insightful)

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

No: you're just reading the wrong journals.

Said Schroedinger," isn't this fun

Shot a cat in a box with a gun

I'll be sure it survives

'Cause the cat has nine lives

And I'll only be using just one."

Schroedinger should not have done that

It was cruel "playing God" with a cat

Which, by the way, mister

Belonged to your sister

The next time please make it a rat.

Said Schroedinger poison is nifty

To dispose of this cat, God is shifty

We can't tell if it died

Till we all peer inside

And the odds are at just that, 5

## Re:Not much literature either (Score:5, Funny)

I remember being reprimanded in an English class during a lesson on Shakespeare...

So, what do you think Shakespeare was really saying in this line here?

Miss, maybe he was just a writer who saw the value of sex and violence in putting bums on seats?

That didn't go down well at all...

## Re:Not much literature either (Score:4, Funny)

I'm pretty sure the GP is referring to the interpretation of symbolism and metaphor for hidden meaning that most literary courses focus on, which would be entirely lacking in any technical paper.

Unless that paper is on string theory.

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

## Re:Eng. Lit is BullShiat, but fun (Score:5, Interesting)

Bullshit is never fun. Making shit up is really uncomfortable for those of use who care about intellectual honesty. Never mind the fact that they never teach you how to do it. English class consists of example after example of bullshit, and then they expect you to do the same. But they never teach you a method, or give you any way to check your answers. Personally, I found English classes (once we stopped doing grammar/spelling) to be mentally abusive.

## Re:Eng. Lit is BullShiat, but fun (Score:5, Funny)

Personally, I found English classes (once we stopped doing grammar/spelling) to be mentally abusive.

If we s/English/foreign language/g then I'm right there with you.

I was a foreign language major because I'm good at learning languages. I hadn't really considered or understood that this was essentially the same thing as being an English major (ie. basket weaving) except in different languages. My Great Moment of Disenchantment came when I decided to teach this one professor a lesson once and for all. More references, more references, I'll show

youmore references! So I didn't read the book at all, and my big paper was one continuous series of citations from random people's doctoral theses and so on. I had citations everywhere, and everything was either a direct quote or a paraphrase. The extent to which I injected original thought or analysis into this work consisted of conjunctions, articles, and perhaps a two- or three-word connecting phrase in a couple of places. I was impressed with how horrific this paper was, because it was the utmost extreme exercise in not thinking and not having any original thoughts or genuine insights whatsoever.The result?

(Everybody probably already saw this coming...)

"Fantastic! A++ This is your BEST work EVER! Why can't you ALWAYS write papers this good! This is what I have been trying to get you to do all along!!"

And

that, boys and girls, is why I was a truck driver for 15 years after college.## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

> I've only used math two times in my life: when learning it in school, when counting my kids at night, and when doing my taxes.

Three should be the number of thy counting!

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

But since you missed the Monty Python reference, you got your very own Whoosh. Mazal Tov!

## Re:Not much (Score:5, Insightful)

How much do you understand the budgets you pay taxes on, rates of growth in government and private economy, trends in your home value? Do you know how much you pay in interest on your loans, vs paying in full a little later? Have you considered how much you'd save by changing how your home is heated and powered, with an upfront investment? Do you have any idea how your IRA/401k is performing, or how you'd do if you reallocated its investments? Do you know how your gas mileage varies with different driving patterns or gas octanes?

You would if you used math.

## Bread and Circus or Godel and Bach? (Score:5, Interesting)

That I ended up in a maths intensive vocation is not unusual. I didn't realise it at the time, but as a kid I had freakish abilities. I just thought it was not unusual. Actually, I believed my teachers who thought I was retarded. I could score 99th percentile on the maths portions of standardised testing, I just couldn't read, write or speak and was severely withdrawn.

Part of this was due to the fact that my father taught me the three R's at an early age and let me write left handed. At school I was required to switch to be right handed. Much later, a teacher advised me to try typing and it helped a lot.

Rather than pursue an Honours Engineering course at University of Illinois, I majored in Lit and Philosophy at a small liberal arts college to become a part of society. I had a fear of becoming an alienated scientist bullied by the same jocks from school into making nuclear weapons.

One could argue that there's no need to pursue literacy beyond the basics. And the author of the article mentions this. But really, what a dismal waste of one's life. It reminds me of the cliché Italian mobster who justifies a sociopath existence banking on a deathbed prayer can absolve him and get him to heaven -- it shows a true lack of understanding in the concept of statistics and risk analysis that someone in that line of work will even have a death bed beyond an unexpectedly cold sidewalk.

Society as it is far too unaware and lost. Literature, Science and Math are what glue our society together. Without it, there's just bread and circus and a general abuse of nerds. Do we really want a culture that would murder Archimedes or make a lampshade out of Einstein or Godel? It's not like we're that removed from that culture of violence today.

Life without intellectual stimulation is a banquet of white bread and margarine washed down with kool-aid while watching the football on the big screen. You can say it's adequate, but it's not my cup of tea.

Yes, one may rarely use the quadratic equation in everyday life, but that doesn't mean the neuron pathways developed in learning this formula doesn't help one make more rational and strategically better decisions in subject matter far removed from the ethereal world of numbers.

Math is neither an art, nor a science; it is the magic that holds the two hemispheres together; writing code seems to be a composite of both: poetry with numbers.

Sure one could do without either, but as Calvin's tiger Hobbes said, without it would be "nasty, brutish and short." For society's sake, we need more maths. I teach junior high economics and personal budgeting through JA and believe me when the teacher asks you quietly after class how to calculate percentages, you know mathematics is not valued enough in our culture.

Something to consider today, the birthday of John Keats, a man who so beautifully combined poetry and science to envision discoveries, such as the workings of the nervous system, not to be revealed through the scientific method for some time later.

## What World Does He Live On? (Score:5, Insightful)

Yes! How can statistics possibly be useful in today's world? Or an understanding of continuously changing variables, like mortgages?

If more people understood math at that level, a lot fewer of us would be constantly fooled by financial flim-flam and political bullshit.

I'm a professor at a liberal arts college. I feel that music and literature is important, but there's no way I can say it's strictly

moreimportant than math or sciences. Equally important to being a well-rounded person? Sure.Out of idle curiosity, when did "ramblings of a random guy" become "news"?

## I kinda agree with him (Score:4, Insightful)

Obviously we all need some math (and as many here - myself included - are engineers, we know that a small portition of the people need more math)... But how much? Really, does average person

everhave to deal with integrals, derivations... or nearly any other area of abstract algebra... after graduating? Everyone needs some very basich math (when shopping, dealing with loans, etc... But the type of math needed for that sort of things have been dealt with by sixth grade. If the point is that many still don't know them well enough, teaching more advanced subjects doesn't seem like a good solution.## Re:What World Does He Live On? (Score:5, Insightful)

I've just gotten all my math courses complete for college, so I can safely say that much of what I learned will never be needed. Calculus? Important to know the principles of it, but it won't be critical to working in the modern world, and I

definitelywon't need to know the formula for integrating trigonometric functions off the top of my head. Trigonometry? Not of much use, unless I go into engineering. Even some of the higher algebra is needless memorization - I willneverneed to mathematically prove the Quadratic Formula. Statistics? Yeah, that's important, and they spend all of one term teaching it, while making me take three classes on calculus.You want kids to learn important math - stop making us memorize things we don't really even need to know. Trim calculus and formal proofs down to the fundamental theory, maybe a bit of practical, and then load up on the statistics, the logic theory (best place to put it, really). With calculators and computers, nobody needs to know math itself. What we need to know is how to think mathematically, and knowing (sec x)' = sec x * tan x doesn't do anything for that.

## Re:What World Does He Live On? (Score:4, Interesting)

Formal proof is very important - if taught well, it teaches people to think in different way.

One of most enlightening moments when i was at university was excercise where we were given few claims and told to prove/disprove them formally.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

Trim calculus and formal proofs down to the fundamental theory.

Yes, get rid of the actual derivations, because memorizing without understanding is obviously better than actually learning anything.

## Re:What World Does He Live On? (Score:5, Insightful)

With calculators and computers, nobody needs to know math itself.

With dictionaries, nobody needs to learn vocabulary.

## The way we think (Score:5, Insightful)

## Language (Score:5, Insightful)

The languages we know affect what thoughts we can think. While it is very zen to say that words hide meaning, empirical evidence seems to indicate that we cannot conceive of ideas that we do not have language to express. Math can express most anything which allows for thoughts right up to the limits of our hardware. It seems like this is also a good reason to learn a human language with different roots than your native one, but I have not done that yet, so I couldn't say.

## Re:The way we think (Score:5, Insightful)

Indeed. I have a mathematical background, but many years ago considered going to law school. I spoke to several practicing lawyers about the experience; one of the questions I wanted to know was how much my undergraduate degree would put me at a disadvantage compared to those with history, political science, or literature degrees.

Invariably, the answer was that a strong math background, as opposed to social sciences or humanities, turns out to be a strength. Engineers, and mathematicians usually do best in law school. People with a strong math education understand logical argument, whether it be in symbols and numbers, or in words. The emotional, rhetoric-laden argument style that humanities teaches doesn't hold water in the legal profession, because judges are usually very sharp and aren't going to fall for that shit.

So yes, mathematics education is critically important because it teaches you how to solve problems and answer questions with reason, not feelings.

## Re:The way we think (Score:4, Interesting)

99% of the legal profession exists outside of jury trials.

## Less math would be fine with me... (Score:5, Interesting)

... as long as we replace it with logic and critical thinking. And finance. I don't care if someone can't do derivatives but everyone should understand the implications of credit card interest.

## Re:Less math would be fine with me... (Score:4, Interesting)

In my experience, you can't teach a person to think. It doesn't matter whether you try it with math, logic, or MBA "critical thinking"; those who already know how to think will pass your courses, those who don't will fail them, and guess which you are going to count if you don't know much about statistics and have an agenda to pursue?

## Why anything else? (Score:5, Insightful)

Why teach History? Few people need that in their daily life or jobs. Why teach music? Other arts? Science? Few people need Chemistry or Physics in their daily lives... etc.

Because Mathematics, like the rest, increase our fundamental understanding of the world around us. It's part of creating critically thinking individuals who have more to give back to society than a simple job skill they learned at an early age. Or at least give them the opportunity... take away fundamental education, they no longer have the choice.

## Re:Why anything else? (Score:5, Insightful)

Mathematics is the language of science. (all science)

If people do not understand math, they are scientifically illiterate.

Applied science (technology) is what enables our free societies to work.

If only a few people know the language of science, then only a few people will control it. This is not a good state of affairs for freedom.

## Re:Why anything else? (Score:5, Interesting)

Why teach History? Few people need that in their daily life or jobs.Yeah, until you start voting for TEA party candidates because you've never heard of the Know Nothings.

Science? Few people need Chemistry or Physics in their daily lives... etc.Basic chemistry and physics could save you from mixing two common household items (or leaving them around for the kids to find) that don't react well together, or from not realizing what role momentum has to play when doing certain 'jackass' style stunts or driving. Those things can save your life.

Math? Up to a certain point, math is incredibly useful in everyday life. The trick is to find out what that certain point IS. Like others have said, probability and statistics are probably higher up there than most people would think, as far as being useful in your daily life. Having to do geometric proofs? No, let's not be silly. Calculus is useless for the vast majority of people (I've taken engineering-level calculus, so I'm not speaking from a position of ignorance here on that).

I think a much more practical program that helps people do what they will ALL need to do is better, and let them specialize as they wish. Everyone should be able to do their taxes, understand basic economic theory for when it comes time to vote, etc. The problem is not that people take too much math, because I believe most people only get as far as basic algebra in the U.S. by the time they're out of high school, but that people aren't learning how to apply it to the real world, and they aren't being taught anywhere NEAR enough of the other stuff with the real world applications, as they should be.

If we had a good public education system in this country, I doubt the TEA Party, whose candidates seem to evince a spectacular lack of understanding of the U.S. Constition, either wouldn't exist, or their preferred candidates would be very, very different. When you claim to be all about enforcing the Constitution, and one of your most highly-visible candidates doesn't know where the concept of 'Separation of Church and State' comes from, that's pretty telling.

Teaching economics and social theory and international trade, etc., would all be very valuable in trying to recover from our current mess, and preventing it from happening again.

But I think the most valuable lessons that could be taught would be in real world politics. Everything that's going wrong starts with a corrupt-by-design system we have, and until we fix that, we're not going to fix anything else without simply shifting the corruption into other forms.

Keeping the populace uneducated in useful things (rather than having everyone learn Calculus in high school) seems like a pretty good way to keep the status quo.

## Re:Why anything else? (Score:4, Informative)

However, that comment suggests that it may be you who is confused about the origin of the term 'Separation of Church and State,' as it appears in no law or other official document related to the US Constitution or the founding of the United States of America.Your comment suggests your reading comprehension skills are ... suboptimal. I said the CONCEPT of Separation of Church and State. The concept flows from the part of the First Amendment which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" and is the result of a Supreme Court decision from a long time ago. You just made the exact same mistake that TEA Party super-star/wacko Christine O'Donnell made during a debate recently. Congratulations on feeling superior through your ignorance. You now qualify as a TEA Party candidate! It really IS just that easy.

## essential (Score:4, Interesting)

How does literature or music get labeled as essential and not math? We learn math so we can build things that let us have time to create literature and music. Sure not everyone needs it (though probability would certainly help), but no one *needs* literature or music, its just the sort of thing we *want*. Some day when we finish automating all the jobs we'll all get to devote all our time to creating art... for our robotic overlords.

## Re:essential (Score:5, Interesting)

## Math is not an end (Score:4, Insightful)

A knowledge of math does not simply improve your ability to solve math problems. It is not the direct application of mathematics on everyday life that is most beneficial, but the analytical and conceptual skill set gained by learning higher level math. The real benefit is that when you study "literature, history, politics and music," you can actually conceptualize the complex interconnections and processes at work in a truly quantifiable way.

I learned computer programming at a very young age, and today, as an electrical engineering student, I am at a great advantage over my peers because of my ability to conceptualize and understand processes. The core of that is my learned ability with mathematics, both algebraic and algorithmic. It also spills over into my humanities courses, where the method of formalizing concepts central to the field of mathematics vastly improves my ability to synthesize complex texts. Of course, that's partly because nothing is as hard to understand as undocumented code, and partly because I have the mathematical foundation to build and conceptualize systems.

If anything, we need to push mathematics younger and younger, and complement that with computer programming courses. I know my 2 year old son will be getting weekly lessons from me on these subjects when he grows up, without question.

If the rest of the country continues to decline on the international standard of education, I know that at least my children will not.

## Re:Math is not an end (Score:5, Interesting)

It is not the direct application of mathematics on everyday life that is most beneficial, but the analytical and conceptual skill set gained by learning higher level math.Nah. That claim was once made for teaching Latin in public schools. It's still made for teaching Euclidean plane geometry.

## Re:Math is not an end (Score:5, Insightful)

If the purpose of your schools is to provide your people with vocational skills, you end up with people with vocations. If the purpose of your schools is to provide your people with intellectual skills, you end up with intellectuals.

I would much rather have learned Latin than Spanish.

## Demonstrable results (Score:3, Interesting)

Does education in "literature, history, politics and music" have any "demonstrable results or accountability"? Indeed, in my profession, I use my math education on a daily (if not hourly) basis, while I can't remember a single instance of literature, history, politics and music having any utility or relevance. My sister, a nursing student, has seen much of her class drop away because they couldn't do the simple math that they need for their job.

Math can be useful for much more professions than pretty much any subject taught in school, short of basic reading skills. Literature, history, politics and music are, frankly, just enrichments.

## Confusing popularity with importance (Score:5, Insightful)

Music and literature may be popular, but they are hardly essential. And history's importance mainly comes from informing politics.

Do most people need to know multivariable calculus? No. But one thing most people are missing is an understanding of basic statistics and logic. Statisticians don't help much. Courses need to be more than just memorizing a bunch of statistical formulas. People need to understand why basic statistical reasoning works. If people don't have that basic philosophical understanding of why statistics work, then they'll just forget all about the formulas they were forced to memorize after the course is over.

These types of courses should be essential for all, but they aren't even available until college--and even then they're optional.

## The problem is (Score:4, Interesting)

They spend too much time teaching crap and instead skip over the important stuff

Why the f... did I learn trigonometric equations ins high school?! Really... Polynomial equation solving?!

Derivatives would be much more useful. And don't beat around the bush on limits, etc, that's math "self-indulgence", go directly to derivatives, simple, done

If they cut the crap and stick with the essentials, then maybe people will learn better. Maybe can they shave a year from the school curriculum so that students can go and study what interests them.

## Re:The problem is (Score:5, Insightful)

If you can't, or don't, understand the relatively simple concepts behind trigonometry and polynomials, you aren't ready for calculus.

## Math is recursively important (Score:5, Insightful)

## Math doesn't suck (Score:5, Insightful)

## Precisely (Score:4, Insightful)

I've felt this way for a long time now, only about many other subjects that are mandatory in the school system as well. Instead of just teaching the essentials in the early years and allowing them to choose their classes in high school, they force you to take classes which have nothing to do with your desired profession. This likely increases the amount of failures because failing one of these non-essential subjects (which you aren't interested in) could cause you to fail an entire year. If you attempt to do well in one of these classes which you do not need, you will end up devoting a lot of time and effort for... something that you do not need. If people later change their mind about their desired profession, that is their own choice. They do that currently, and many of them have to relearn what they need for their desired profession, anyway, because when you don't use something, it is easily forgettable (even in a short amount of time). Sadly, many people think that more mandatory classes and tedious work will somehow make everyone more intelligent, but in reality, much of their time goes to waste memorizing this information which is not useful to them (which they forget soon enough because they do not use it, anyway).

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

Not all of us knew what we wanted to do in middle school.

I thought through middle school and high school that I wanted to be a professional musician, but after one year of that in college I decided to study chemistry, which I wouldn't have known I liked had I not been forced to take it in high school, nor would I be able to study it had I not been forced to go through trigonometry and advanced algebra.

tl;dr You're required to study different subjects in school because there can only be so many firemen and v

## Is this some kind of ploy? (Score:5, Insightful)

I know Ramanathan as the author of a series of study manuals for the preliminary examinations for actuarial science in the US. It honestly surprises me that someone of that level of mathematical knowledge would make such a poorly reasoned argument. As such I must consider the possibility that this is some kind of cynical elitist ploy to retain mathematics as the language of the privileged and well-educated, much like Latin hundreds of years ago. But this too seems too sinister a line of thought to entertain--and somewhat contradictory, given what I know of him.

Nevertheless, the logic is unsound. Mathematics is not merely computation or abstract manipulation of symbols. It is a way of thinking that not only fosters an understanding of the importance of logical reasoning, but also the necessity to substantiate and quantify one's empirical observations. That is to say, mathematics is the foundation of science. To say that most people don't need anything more than the most basic knowledge of math is like saying people don't need the ability to think critically.

The reason why we learn mathematics is not just to perform work with it, but to learn how to think logically and behave rationally. If there should be any doubt about this, just look at the state of mathematics education in the US today, and compare that to how appropriately we assess things like the relative risk of terrorist threats versus being in a car accident; or how well people understand what happened with the Wall Street bailouts; or even something as basic as compound interest as it applies to making payments on credit cards. I think the evidence is overwhelming to support the notion that people suffer from innumeracy, not too much mathematics. And given that Ramanathan writes study manuals for actuarial candidates, I find his lack of understanding of this point to be all the more remarkable.

## don't know much about... (Score:5, Insightful)

## A lot more than we have (Score:5, Interesting)

"90% of this game is one-half mental"

Seriously, though: Large scale serious problems like global warming, ecological services calculations, etc require

a deep and broad grasp of math and logic.

Understanding geopolitical problems and economic problems

at a fundamental level requires understanding of the math of complex systems.

In short:

- If you want to be in charge, and do the wrong things, you can get by without math and without believing in what

math and science say about the world.

- If you want to be in charge and do the right things, you need deep insight into mathematical and scientific

explanations of aspects of the world and aspects of collective societal behavior.

- If you want to vote for the people who will do the wrong things on the big problems and opportunities, you

can get by without math.

- If you want to vote for the people who will do the right things on the big problems and opportunities, you need lots

of math to figure out who's probably on the best track to viable solutions.

## Probability, statistics, and estimation (Score:4, Interesting)

The math people really need to survive in a very dynamic society involves probability, statistics, and estimation. Schools rarely teach how to estimate something within 10-20%, yet that's an enormously valuable skill. Being able to decide what to throw out of an estimation without losing too much accuracy is essential.

Kids should know enough probability to estimate the odds on the local lottery. They should know what an "expectation" is, and what zero-sum and negative-sum games are and how to recognize them. They should be able to calculate the odds of dying in a terrorist attack and in an auto accident. They should know the risk/reward calculation for various career choices. They need to understand the concept of exposure to interest rate variations in loans and investments.

Plane geometry, Euclid proof style, could probably be dropped with no loss. (I've done animation physics engines and GPS calculations, and I didn't use that stuff. Analytical geometry, yes; straightedge and compass proofs, no.)

## Math is the foundaton for physics yet to be (Score:5, Insightful)

Math is the language that describes the universe. Stop pursuing new heights in math an you will never reach new heights in reality.

jdb2

## Extend the question (Score:3, Interesting)

Based on the low, low standards this guy seesm to be advocating, most individuals don't need to be able to read more than the back of a cereal packet, have any clue about any foreign languages, be able to write anything their spell-checkers won't fix or learn any manual skills: such as cooking (we've got microwaves), handyman (can drive to the home centre) or anything more than turning on the TV or the computer.

So what's the point in staying at school past age 10?

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

That reminds me!

The article looks at math from an anti-capitalist angle:

"Unfortunately, the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body.

There are three steps to this kind of aggressive marketing. The first is to convince people that white teeth, a full head of hair and a sculpted physique are essential to a good life. The second is to embarrass those who do not possess them. The third is to make people think that,