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March 08, 2022

Innumeracy: The fear of all sums

John A. Paulos, the author of amusing and yet depressing books "Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Reads a Newspaper", coined the term "mathematical illiteracy" or "innumeracy" to describe an endemic deficiency of our society, namely a lack of grasp of numbers.

Numbers And that lack of understanding costs consumers millions of dollars each year.

For instance, it appears that those who were less numerate were more likely to foreclose on their homes during the recent U. S. housing crisis, The Economist reports.

Stephan Meier, one of the study’s authors, posits that the innumerate may be worse at managing their daily finances, leaving them with little room for manoeuvre when things get difficult.

If you count innumeracy among your (or, worse still, your children’s) many afflictions, then you need to meet Dan Meyer.

Meyer, a long-time high school math teacher who’s currently studying at Stanford University on a doctoral fellowship, is particularly noted for his widely circulated “Math Class needs a Makeover” TED presentation in which he talks about changing students’ attitudes towards numbers.

Meyer’s approach to teaching math takes students and teachers out of the text book thinking mode to one that turns all of them into self directed problem solvers. In other words, he prepares young adults for real life -- something a lot of math teachers fail to do. Not that most people are that interested.

As he puts it, Meyer "sells a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it." So he's developed some creative ways to get students to care -- or at least to understand the implications of what he’s offering.

Are you and yours good with numbers? Do you feel that innumeracy has hampered you in the past? Do you blame the school system?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...