Friday, November 5, 2010


I, for one, am happy to learn not everyone in the world needs to know Calculus. A professor of mathematics claims that the common man on the street—or woman in the boardroom—has no need for calculus or any higher mathematics beyond algebra (which I claim we don’t particularly need, either) to live a good life.
So, why do some mathematicians and educators attempt to embarrass the general public concerning their lack of knowledge about how to “calculate” certain bits of useless numerical facts?
 To sell something—that’s why. After the Sputnik scare of the fifties, the pundits bemoaned the fact that we were “a nation at risk,” setting up a scenario in which publishers of mathematical educational materials flooded the market. Every college and every public school bought the programs and set to work turning our students into mathematicians. The idea hasn’t worked yet.

Oh, probably some of us believe an elite mathematician performs daily chores and routine tasks on a much higher plane than the rest of us, but really…can a calculus expert read the newspaper any better than I?

A wise teacher friend once told me that a student only needed to learn two things to be successful: how to read and how to write. If one can perform those two tasks proficiently, then he can learn anything he wants. He can live a successful, satisfying life learning and doing what works for him.

I will admit a person should know basic math. Balancing a checkbook, living within a budget, and calculating a percentage are necessary for most of us. After all, we don’t want to go into debt, or pay late fees, or file bankruptcy because we could not do simple math.
 Now I’ll tell you a story. I did not receive an academic high school education. I took “Distributive Education” courses, thereby skipping not only biology, but math any higher than elementary algebra, trigonometry, and chemistry. But because of the Sputnik scare in the fifties, the government offered a National Science Foundation student loan to train teachers in order to outrace the Russians getting to the moon! So, I entered college at age 27 and signed up for....guess what? A NSF loan to major in education and science. I aced every course during my first two years, and earned only one C during the second half of my BS degree. The C was in Bacteriology—more difficult than Physics. Yes, I made B’s in physics by using a trig book to work my physics problems. Sure, I would have loved to know trigonometry, but I didn’t. But…I knew where to find answers.
What does this mean for all of us? How does it affect me?

Now I write romance novels and women’s fiction. You know what a learning curve I had there. Many of us probably entered the writing world in a similar manner: deficient in knowledge about publishers, editors, POV, Active vs. Passive writing, and myriad other necessary elements of style.

So, how are we doing? Can we solve our own problems? If we don’t know how to do some particular thing, do we set out to learn how? Do new electronic gadgets thrill us? Or do they set our teeth on edge because we’ll need to learn one more new thing?

Can you read? Can you write? You bet you can, opening many doors of opportunity.
Will our young people learn to read AND write? Sometimes I worry that the texting business will ruin them. But I still have faith that the majority of them will find a way to do and learn what they need to know to live a happy successful life and be a productive citizen.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

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  1. Celia
    I'll be honest, I took 4 years of high school math algrebra 1 & 2 including pre algrebra and geomotery(sp) and I get by just fine. I think schools should focus on the common sense and the basics. Reading rocks

  2. Hi Celia: While going for my BS in chemistry I had to take a semester of analytic geometry and trigonometry and then three semesters of calculus, the last half of the last semester being differential equations or Diffie Q as the lingo of long ago called it. I scored a D in the first course, flunked first semester calculus, took it over and got a C and then the last two semesters I got Ds. I used some of that in my physical chemistry courses but very little on my actual job as a chemist. It was a nightmare as I had no preparation from my small high school. But I want to say I write my short romance stories such that the heroine is smart in math and must tutor the hero so I like the fact that math is a big thing in universities purely because it gives me a plot for my college romances. I hope you don't mind my wanting to keep calculus or diffie Q in my stories as the hero falls in love with the heroine math brain. I know she could be smart in other things and she is. I write those because of my shortcomings in college math. No, I didn't have some beautiful young woman tutor me in math in college. Sorry for being longwinded. Thanks for your views on calculus.

  3. Amen Celia! I was one of those pegged as an "advanced" student in high school and was shoved into so many mind-numbing math courses that I still cringe to think about it and that was over thirty (holy cow!) years ago. How much have I used that knowledge? Not a bit. How much do I read...and now write? All the time!

  4. Oh, I agree about this age of texting! Do they even teach children to pick up a pencil these days? Do they know the meaning of the word "cursive"? I don't mind to tell you that I am concerned for this growing generation!

    Does anyone remember the three R's? I believe they are still relevant for our time -- and ALL time!

    Wonderful post, Celia. Love it! :)

  5. Hi, Steph--I do know math has its important place--even the Greeks did math. But I do not need Calculus, and not much else. I do know there are some people whose brains work mathematically--but I'm not one of them! Celia

  6. LARRY--I love that you use your math knowledge to write your romances--making the heroine a math or brainy genius. That in itself is pure genius! Thanks so much for your long-winded (your words) comment. I'll take those any day of the week. Celia

  7. MAEVE--I do understand. Even though I produced a son who has a PhD in Mathematics, that does not mean he got it from me. However, he did use it working as a research scientist. Thanks for you input! Celia

  8. MISS MAE--I know!!! It's dreadful! You're right that kids do not use pencils or pens. Our grandsons do because their parents would not allow use of a computer or calculator or video game until they reached about ten or eleven. They said, "we have not explored all the possibilites with a pencil and paper yet."
    All three write me letters--two in cursive, one still in printing, to say thank you for gifts.Now they do everything other kids do--and they can do cursive writing, too! Celia

  9. Hi Celia--as always I am late, but bettter late than never. I took a lot of math, geometry, algebra, trigonmetry,... I am not a geek, but I used to enjoy solving problems. Later, I prefered chemistry and made a career out of it.

  10. Celia, something you said reminded me of my father's words. He said you didn't have to have a lot of knowledge to be smart. You only needed to know where to find the knowledge you need. Makes sense to me. Linda

  11. Most people know that math is not my best subject. I thanked God for a company named Texas Instruments and I saved up $75 and bought a miracle invention called a caluculator because it coul - gasp - solve square roots at the stroke of a button. Today that same calculator costs less than $5.

    Math is one of the three R's of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. I have a feeling it will long be with us, though we may have to muddle along.

    Interesting post!


  12. Ah, I'm going to try not to be long-winded..

    First, math and science make me cringe. Literally. I got through basic algebra only because my big sis was patient and helped me to learn it enough to pass with a C. Geometry was okay. I didn't have to do more than that, and I didn't, until I had to do a statistics class for my psych degree. Yikes! And it was all online. And the teacher was almost never available. Know what? I was older then and more determined and I learned it myself and came out with an A.

    So I have to disagree that all kids need to know is the ability to read and write. Yes, but on top of that, which schools overlook these days, is the ability to learn. More important than anything else is learning HOW to learn. Once you do that, you can do whatever you need to do, such as learn statistics by yourself when you're an art/English person.

    That is no longer taught. And that's our big problem.

  13. I love this post, Celia. There is a lot of truth in there. As an educator myself I do see how much stress is put on kids to perform in these high level math and science courses. I suppose it just depends on where they want to end up.

  14. After reading a couple of these comments, I thought I would add that I am not a math person but I took it in college through Statistics and algorithms and all that for my degree in History. I did so well in that Stats class (by learning all by myself how to use a graphing calculator) that I didn't even have to take the final exam because I already had enough points for an A. ALl because I went the extra mile to learn for myself. So I suppose that is what we need to learn for life--how to keep learning. BTW--Lo and behold my first full time teaching job was teaching middle school math and I ended up loving it.

  15. MONA--I figured you'd know math really well. I used what I had to when I needed it--otherwise, I don't want to see a math problem! Thanks for commenting--Celia

  16. Interesting, to say the least. My brother, who has passed on now, was a math whiz, the higher stuff. I always did good at the basics, but really didn't have the mind for calculus, though geometry has always fascinated me.

    Really, imo, as has been said... learn to read and write... and learn how to learn... then, you can teach yourself anything you have a passion for.

    It is terribly sad because 'learning how to learn' is not being encouraged for the most part.

  17. LINDA--if only everyone knew about that one simple thing your dad said. We can't possibly know everything, but a read can find what he need. Thanks--Celia

  18. MAGGIE--oh, the old TI calculators. My husband bought one of the first ones--he still has it!
    At night, he plays with it as if it were a video game--but then his mind works mathematically. Celia

  19. Hi, Loraine--yes, that was my point, that if a person can read and write he can learn whatever he wants--to a certain degree, of course. Given a good background in reading and writing gives a student the ability to learn. Thanks! Celia

  20. CINDY--VERY TRUE, it's important to learn how to "keep on learning." If I hadn't discovered writing after a career and learning other things after that, I would have found something. I'm a self-learner--many people are.
    See? That's what I did--found a textbook that gave me the way to find out what I needed. Celia

  21. SAVANNA--right. Teaching how to learn is not being taught, nor being encouraged. Cindy said there is so much stress put on children to excel, it takes the joy out of it. And she's correct. I'm no math whiz at all, but I produced two children who are! Go figure. Celia

  22. Celia,
    I think it skips a generation. My dad was a math wizard and loved science. He was a chemical engineer for an oil company. My husband is a an electronics engineer, so I know that some of my son's math smarts came from him, too, but I sure didn't get any of my dad's. Neither did my two sisters. I think that if you have the ability to read and write, as you say, Celia, you can get by. But it sure does help if you have a good math teacher who is patient and knows how to show you what to do when you're trying to learn math. I know I don't need calculus--but I also knew I was never going to be a engineer and pull down that salary either. LOL

  23. CHERYL--In my case, it was never in my family! None in my husband's either, except his brain does work like a calculator. So where my two kids got all this brainy ability is beyond me!
    Simple math is essential, though. It disturbs me to watch a teen checker unable to make change without the help of the automatic machine that spits out the change for them. It's sad to see them struggle.
    Talk later--Celia

  24. Celia, I love this post.

    I'm not great in math either. On the other hand, I think our country is taking a back seat to other countries when it comes to science and math, which is sad.

  25. Hi, Sandy--yes, but we've always been behind. But when push comes to shove, the US, in the past, has risen to the occassion. Let's hope that will continue! Celia

  26. Very cool blog, Celia.
    I remember things just as you said above.
    I think the internet and blogging are big incentives for kids to learn how to read. Their friends are blogging and things they are interested in, they will want to look up online.
    I see hope there.

    Sorry I came to this post late.