Innumeracy

By Brian Simanek

One key Statistic often used to evaluate the status of failing schools is illiteracy rates.  Of course it is commonly accepted that all children beyond a certain age should be able to read.  However, receiving far less attention, yet no less important is the the problem of innumeracy: the inability to use mathematics.

As mathematicians, we are undoubtedly biased toward overstating the importance of math education, but mathematics (or at least arithmetic) is an essential part of day-to-day life.  My own experience suggests that innumeracy is a more wide spread phenomenon than illiteracy.  Has anyone else found this to be the case?

Per haps some people have found that their lives do not require a working knowledge of math or numbers.  Also, I frequently forget things that I do not often use (both mathematical and not mathematical).  However, I think one prominent cause for apparent innumeracy is a feeling of embarrassment.  At a young age, so much of math education revolves around getting the right answer before anyone else does.  Some people that are very capable, yet not lightning fast may become intimidated and find it less frustrating to not try to do math at all.  Learning to read never had a competitive side to it in my education.  I think a substantial amount of innumeracy is deceiving and often reflects an unwillingness to do math and not an inability to do math.

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