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.
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
Posted by: Dr. J. S. | Mar 8, 2022 5:11:31 AM
Given that I have a Ph.D. in engineering, I think I am good with numbers. After 25 years, I can still set up and solve the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow analysis, or solve Laplace or Fourier transforms. Heck, I can even do more mundane things like add, subtract, multiple and divde. I could do all of the above even if there was a major power failure that lasted longer than the UPS on my computer. My kid's generation is quite different. Although my own kids are extremely good with mathemetics, some of the stories they tell me about their classmates is quite shocking. My daughter just told me that most of her classmates in a business course she is taking are dropping out because they had no idea that there would me math in such a course. Duh! My wife recently had a summer student (science) from a top university in the US. She asked her to gather emissions data from one of the local manufacturing plants and plot trends in a chart. The student's first question: what is a chart? Double DUH! These are not isolated cases either. I consider my self lucky to have gone through the education system before calculators and computers were commonplace. In fact, these devices were banned from my schools. I now work at least 8 hours per day on a computer as part of my job. Although I run very complex simulations, I have enough number sense to look at the output and judge if the numbers are meaningful or the result of some programming glitch or bad input data. Most of the younger prefessionals I have mentored over the years accept what comes out of an application they are running on their PC as unquestionably accurate, no matter how ridiculous the numbers are.
Posted by: Kim | Mar 8, 2022 6:24:44 AM
I was a high school dropout, went back to school when I was 40 and got my grade 12 diploma. I don't know anything about the Navier-Stokes or Laplace but I do know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and better yet, I know how to spell them too.
Posted by: Michele | Mar 8, 2022 7:18:13 AM
I don't think we need to attack the spelling issue, and the idea of posting a comment that seems only to detract from what someone is saying should have no place. Being a high school graduate doesn't guarantee numeracy, nor does being a drop-out exclude it. Dr.J.S obviously knows his numeracy, and he makes a very good point with his examples. I would like to give a few examples of what I have noticed as numeracy errors as well; the packaging that states you get a 50% more as a bonus does not mean that there is twice as much in the package, a 13% (or whatever the tax rate is where you live) discount is not the same price as not having tax added, and .7% would be calculated as (x)(.007) not (x)(.07). And people should use the Pythagorean Theorem for planning the steps on their back deck. My father was a truck driver who didn't make it past grade 10 but he's understands numbers. My father-in-law reads blueprints and programs computers to guide intricate cutting machines but the examples above were all inspired by him.
Posted by: Randy Kubbernus | Mar 8, 2022 9:05:55 AM
I think chess should be taught in all math classes from grade 1 to12.Great for problem solving etc.
Posted by: Chip | Mar 9, 2022 4:16:18 AM
Numeracy as well as proper spelling AND grammar will soon become as extinct as the dodo bird. Case in point was well said by Dr. J.S regarding this and the next generation's complete reliance on calculators and computers to perform simple math. I remember when cash registers didn't calculate the change ? The cashier would do the math in her/his head and 99% of the time you received the correct change; these days... not so much. How many times have I paid for an item, let's say, totalling $3.87'; I offer the cashier $4.12 expecting to receive 1 quarter (.25) in change instead of 1 dime and 3 pennies (.13). How often have I received "the ??? look" from the cashier or actually have one "tell" me that the correct change is .87... not .12. Hey honey... just punch it up on your little cash register, let the machine take over and Shazzam !! look what came up... amazing isn't it. Now U can call or text UR BFF and tell her wat hapnd.
Posted by: Dr. J. S. | Mar 9, 2022 12:06:24 PM
@Chip... good comments. My mother was a cashier as well. She only had 4 years of primary school education, which was cut short by WWII. She used to tell me that she could calculate change faster in her head than the summer students could say the word "calculator".
@Kim... yes I misspelled some words. They are called typos and I simply failed to capture them. Pressing a wrong key does not equate to lack of ability to spell. Are you suggesting that you are incapable of making a mistake? I would be happy to proofread any of your published material. By the way, I will gladly admit that I even make mathematical errors. I catch them 99.9% of the time. There is quite a difference between making the odd mistake and the systemic problem discussed in this article.
Posted by: Tenacious Otter | Mar 11, 2022 11:08:02 AM
In the words of Tom Hanks in the movie Sleepless in Seatle. I don't even want to know what they're not teaching you in school. To his son.
Posted by: Tenacious Otter | Mar 11, 2022 11:13:12 AM
Not that I believe it's the responsibility of educators to ensure our children can read, write and do arithmetic. But if not, then what exactly is it that I'm paying them to do?
Posted by: Quarmby | Mar 12, 2022 10:37:28 AM
The general problem is our "new age" society, in that we keep lowering the bar and allowing anything (computers, calculators, openbook exams, etc.) that will make life easier for both students and teachers. The trouble with that concept, is that the teachers get what they want today (less work, zero accountability, more money) and the students lose...especially if we ever have a global brown out and they (anyone under 35) won't be able to function period. In my business, I constantly sit with at least two accountants at the boardroom table (smart ones (?) pretending to use 2 calculators at once) and when doing simple cost estimates ($40M+), I usually find myself waiting 4-5 minutes after verbalizing my estimate, for the accountants to arrive at the same figure and look amazed and confused. Am I Einstien...NO, I was just lucky enough to be educated at a time when you had to know your subject or you failed...PERIOD. No "open book exams", calculators or computers....no makeup exams...no average mark based on grading curve...just teachers that cared about more than a pay increase for less work and accountability. Teachers that cared and actually checked the work by hand and penalized you for not showing all steps (to insure that you fully understood). Today, I realise just how blessed I was to be educated when I was and for the wonderful, caring and top notch teachers that tolerated and guided me.
Posted by: Retired | Mar 14, 2022 5:13:20 PM
I like Quarmby was educated in an age when you were required to pass an exam at year end. If you failed you repeated your year. I can still do figures in my head faster than my Grand children can get their calculator out and on. The problem with our system is the government allowing schools to graduate kids that can neither read, write or add figures. Failing a grade is not a sin, what is a sin is passing and not having learned enough to pass.