Do We Really Need to Learn Math?
Date: 11/19/2002 at 11:31:33 From: Natalie Espinosa Subject: Math is not needed.... I honestly think that Math is useless subject. How many people use it unless they REALLY have to? I'm sure that most people if they had a chance would let a computer do it. Isn't that what they're for - to make our life easier? My high school just let us start using calculators, but we still need to show our work, which I don't know how if we didn't do any. It may just be me, and I hate Math, but why do we need to know Math if we can have a calculator do it?
Date: 11/19/2002 at 12:35:45 From: Doctor Ian Subject: Re: Math is not needed.... Hi Natalie, You could make the same argument about reading, couldn't you? Why learn to read, when you can just get other people (and eventually machines) to do your reading for you? But you're starting from a couple of interesting premises. The first premise is that you can just 'let' a calculator solve a problem for you. I don't know about _your_ calculator, but mine won't do a thing unless I tell it exactly what to do, step by step. Which means I have to know what steps to tell it to do. If I tell it to divide when I'm supposed to be multiplying, it will go ahead and perform the wrong operation. If I key in 12.3 instead of 1.23, it will go ahead and use the wrong number. It won't complain, or ask me if I'm sure about what I'm asking it to do, because it hasn't a clue about what problem I'm actually trying to solve. One of us ought to be keeping track, to make sure things are being done correctly, and that the final answer is at least in the right ballpark, and guess what? It's not going to be the calculator. That means it has to be me. The second premise is that there will always be a working calculator around. They do break, you know, and batteries seem to run out at the most inconvenient times. I suppose you can argue that you'll always be able to borrow someone else's calculator, or ask someone else for help, but this is a little like arguing that you don't need your own fire extinguisher, because you'll always be able to borrow one when you need it. In the end, what makes math 'useful', even for people who don't do lots of calculations in their daily lives, is that it's very easy for people who are comfortable with math to lie to people who aren't comfortable with it. Think about some very young children that you know. You can tell them practically anything, and they really have no choice but to believe you, because they have no way of figuring out whether you're lying or not. To borrow a memorable phrase from Tennessee Williams, children have no choice but to 'depend on the kindness of strangers'. Guess what? If you don't understand math, then you're in exactly the same boat relative to other people who do understand it. They can tell you anything, and if you don't have the skills to evaluate what they're saying, you have no choice but to accept it. To the extent that you believe that once you get out in the world, you'll be able to trust other people to look out for you, and act in your best interest, you're right - you won't need math at all. So I guess the question is: To what extent do you believe that? - Doctor Ian, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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