ADDING UP FUZZY MATH: TEACHING THE BASICS
New York Post
By ROLAND MINTON
ROSIE O'Donnell has been quoted in Newsweek
as saying that
math should no longer be taught because "we have computers (and) no longer
need to know why 3x =3D (2y) /4." I think that Rosie is, in her words, a
patootie," but in this case she is quite wrong.
Because talk-show hosts are in the business of generating conversation,
treat Rosie's comments as a friendly challenge to the mathematics community...
Let me first confess that not all mathematics is useful in everyday life. As
an adult, I have never had the need to recite the poems I memorized in eighth
grade. Similarly, most people will never have the occasion to use the
There are countless examples of mathematics being useful and enlightening.
Tennis players and fans can benefit from calculations showing that the
of error in striking angle for a Pete Sampras speed serve is one degree
hit with no spin, but is three or four times greater if hit with topspin.
Analysts of the presidential election would have spoken more knowledgeably
about the validity of different recount procedures if they understood basic
Car buyers and home buyers who mastered algebra can confidently refuse to
pressured into accepting bad terms on a loan.
Any list of applications, however, will completely miss the primary benefit
break down a large problem into smaller, more manageable pieces.
organizing myriad overlapping descriptions into a
devise imaginative strategies using
mathematical skills of analyzing data, recognizing patterns and
abstracting important principles.
Such critical thinking skills are keys to a life that is rewarding in both
the financial and psychological sense. Mathematics...
are perhaps the purest mental conditioning programs that humans have
Our society loses if mathematics and other disciplines are eliminated or
"dumbed down" just because students find the material difficult and not
personally relevant. We must prepare the next generation to be logical,
flexible thinkers in a world that is increasingly complex and mathematical.
Recent research indicates that the concepts of numbers and arithmetic are
present in newborns. Anyone who has watched young children at play knows
counting and organizing and trading are natural and enjoyable aspects of
playing. That is, humans naturally enjoy mathematics.
It is easy to lose that enjoyment if you start to find the learning
and get no help from teachers and parents. In fact, it sounds cooler to
quit, especially when a popular talk-show host proclaims that we should
mathematics from school.
So, please, Rosie, say something nice about mathematics.
You may get a laugh when you put down mathematics, but it's a cheap laugh
based on ignorance and prejudice. Please use your
influence to help kids see that success in mathematics can give them a great
sense of accomplishment while preparing them to enjoy the fast-paced,
technical world in which they will live.
Roland Minton is professor of mathematics at Roanoke College in