Friday, August 03, 2012

Why Study Math

At a party, a man told me he still remembered the quadratic formula (this must be some sort of status symbol as lots of people brag about remembering it) but he didn't know why he ever had to learn it . He bemoaned the fact that he never uses it in his business.  He the went on to complain about all the math classes he took, time he feels was wasted.

This man was reasonable (probably due to all the math he has taken) and listened to my pro math arguments.  First, I pointed out that studying mathematics is just part of a well rounded education and part of what makes a person educated.  I never used the Shakespeare I was forced to study, never liked it much, but I am happy I was forced to study it.  Now I can intelligently discuss what and why I don't like his works.  Next I pointed out how mathematics teaches reasoning skills.  I teach my students that delving into a math problem and being able to read between the lines will help them in literature, history and everything else. Also, people respect math and the ability to learn it, and learn it well gives an individual an edge in the job market.  I have even heard that medical schools like to pepper their student bodies with math majors.  Finally, young people often don't know what they are interested in and what sort of career to pursue.  If they don't study math, they will never have the opportunity of knowing whether this subject is one that sparks their interest.

At this party I got a strange look because I never read Moby Dick.  Why do people see a problem with missing a piece of literature but no problem with missing entire fields of mathematics.

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