pres.jpgI admit it. I am having a mid-life crisis. Almost to the half a century mark, it is time to decide what is there that is worth spending the remaining half (or less) of my life doing.

Making life better

That was the vision for the company I co-founded years ago and just left. I still believe in that. The question is, how does one make life better? My answer:

Math.

Okay, I know some of you are already shaking your heads and convinced that I have gone insane. Hear me out. Below are my five reasons why mathematics is the key to equal opportunity, diversity, civil rights, curing the common cold and all the other problems of humanity that I don’t have time to mention.

  1. People who understand math make more money. Those of you who are now sneering that money isn’t everything have never gone without eating, never had a sick child you could not afford to take to the doctor. As Ogdne Nash said, the only kinds of problems rich people have are the problems money can’t cure, which are even more of a problem if you are poor.
  2. Many people are locked out of careers where they might be really good, if they only had the basic math skills. I know some people who could be good doctors or nurses. They are caring, observant, intelligent people. However, you need to pass Algebra and courses that require at least some understanding of mathematics, like statistics. Those course requirements are reasonable. You need to be able to figure out the right proportions for medication, read tables that give a margin of error. Personally, I’d like my physician to understand the probability that I might die from a certain treatment, wouldn’t you?
  3. “We are at risk of becoming a nation divided both economically and racially by knowledge of mathematics.” This statement was made in 1989 by the National Research Council. I just read it in a data presentation by the Education Trust. They noted that, although the No Child Left Behind Act said that by the year 2000 the U.S. would be first in the world in mathematics and science education, we are, in fact, being left very far behind. Of even more concern, while 70% of Asian-American children and 65% of non-Hispanic white children complete Algebra II, less than half of children from other groups do.
  4. Americans as a whole and particularly minorities are not achieving advanced math skills. I could give you the percentages of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, etc. who are passing Calculus, but if you are like most Americans, you wouldn’t be able to calculate that Asian-Americans are three times as likely as other minority groups to pass Calculus in high school, Caucasians are twice as likely as other groups (except Asians). Since a lot of science, computer science and other majors leading to jobs that pay money and contribute to our economy require Calculus the result of this equation is we’re rapidly approaching hell in a handbasket.
  5. The unfortunate truth is that much of mathematics education includes idiotic statements like that last one. Our courses focus on basic operations like multiplication and division at the bottom level and some kind of feeling and empathy for mathematics at the upper levels. My children actually got extra credit in high school math for writing biographies about famous mathematicians. I checked out a book on mathematics and civil rights, thinking here is someone who thinks like me. There was no actual math in the book anywhere. I was sad and depressed. The answer to what is the square root of 49 is seven. It really doesn’t matter how you feel about that fact. It’s still seven.

MATH LESSON OF THE DAY

The equation for a straight line is

Y = a + bX

a is a constant and it tells you where the line will intercept the Y axis. Think about this. It makes sense. When X= 0 , that is, you are on the X axis, this equation becomes Y = a .

One reason this equation is cool is that if you want to tell a computer to draw a straight line, you need to give it an equation like this. You probably want to specify a limit, like from X= 0 to X =97. Otherwise, you are going to get a VERY long line.

Comments

One Response to “What is worth the rest of your life?”

  1. Carlos Graña on January 16th, 2008 3:48 pm

    It’s amazing how that simple ecuation affects our lives. Depending what direction it is pointing being B a positive or negative number it can good or bad thing. It so much used in economics, forecasting(Linear regression) etc. Things are so simple when it’s a line.

    Supply & Demand

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