Artwork for podcast Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler
Mathematical Thinking - For People Who Hate Math: By: Albert Rutherford
16th January 2022 • Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler • Russell Newton
00:00:00 00:04:47

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In classrooms across the nation, students are chewing their fingernails down the quick as they frown over their calculus homework. To them, the series of numbers and symbols on the page look like the headache-inducing language of an alien species, solving for X a nearly impossible task. In a fit of rage, they close their textbook and open a chat so they can bemoan the gratuitous torture that is math class with a friend.

“This is stupid! What’s the point, anyway? I’ll never use this stuff in real life!”

“I know right? There’s so much else we could be learning that’s way more useful!”

Wondering why anyone would ever go into a field that requires such nonsense, they push through the class dragging their feet and scratching their head nearly every step of the way. And when they’ve reached the minimum of what their secondary school or college admissions office requires, they’ll promptly strike math classes from their schedules and breathe a sigh of relief as they toss their folders full of formulas in the trash.

It’s a tale as old as the modern school system. And it’s something nearly everyone (but, perhaps, mathematicians and scientists) can relate to. But as such young people grow into tax-paying, mortgage-borrowing, retirement-fund-owning adults, they regret having not held onto those notes longer.

Pouring over a stack of complicated forms, receipts, and spreadsheets, the math never seems to add up right. The cruel classroom exercises have become real life, with much higher stakes: balance your budget and manage your finances or sink into poverty and bankruptcy. With confidence in calculating quickly waning, they realize they never thought would dawn and wish they paid a little more attention in calculus class.

Unfortunately, there’s no do-over. No time machine to take a quick trip back to that homework session years ago and tell their younger self to pay attention so they can understand the stock market later in life. And even if there was, do you think they’d listen?

With tiny powerful computers in our pockets, it's hard to convince the younger crowd that taking copious calculus notes will be worth giving up a socialite Saturday afternoon. Heck, you, a distinguished grown adult, may not even be convinced yet.

Often, adults in the modern world don’t need to know much math, especially if they can afford an accountant. Most get by with only the barest knowledge of addition and subtraction (if that). We live in a world that has become quite anti-math, or rather, highly user-friendly for the un-mathematical person. Restaurants print tip calculations on the bottom of receipts, computerized registers and virtual payments have eliminated the need for counting change, and a quick Google search can answer questions about the Pythagorean Theorem or definite integrals. Nowadays, there are even apps for measuring the degree of an angle or which allow you to take a picture of a complicated equation and get an answer. But all this technology does is answer the procedural side of math. And, despite common misconception, the procedural part of math is not all of math.