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
Texas Promise-eBook-Desert Breeze Publishing
Making the Turn-print & eBook-Wings ePress