Math opens doors that are otherwise closed

Math opens doors that are otherwise closed


It’s unfortunate that “The Suze Orman Show” is now off the air, for Ms. Orman embodied the importance of math in finance and life. Those who sought help from her did not fully understand the importance of Math, as the “Can I Afford It?” or “How am I Doing?” segments showed.

My student who wanted to be a stockbroker thought learning logarithms had no relevance, until I showed him how to determine the doubling time of money with five calculator strokes (72 divided by the interest rate in percent equals number of years); it is a two line proof.

He was amazed. Another was thrilled to discover that by knowing the volume of a cylinder, he could determine cubic inch displacement of an engine. Math is important, can easily be made relevant, and — yes — even fun.

I grew up in an era where people did the same job their entire life. The world is rapidly changing; multiple careers during one’s lifetime are now the norm. At 66, I have had three. We can’t imagine what jobs will be needed 10 years from now, let alone 50.

The winners in this new world will be those who can adapt; math is the single most important subject I know that increases one’s adaptability. I taught adults in their 30s who suddenly discovered they needed an MBA to advance in their company.

When faced with linear regression in a business model, knowing the slope of a line becomes relevant, as does probability, servicing debt, survey design and measuring quality, to name only a few. Without math, the glass ceiling becomes cement; what seems so certain when one is young is no longer so with age.

I have heard students complain, like Ms. Scott, that they wouldn’t use math. I could easily fill this paper with counterexamples, and my primary career was as a neurologist. I didn’t start my third career, statistics, until I was 49, and I had to review calculus taken 32 years earlier in order to get accepted.

Math, like learning music, chemistry, or Spanish, takes work and practice. If Ms. Scott thinks that math is stressful and makes people tired, I can assure her that I survived the stress and fatigue of reviewing calculus and two years of graduate school, 300 miles commuting each way.

I have long felt we need parallel educational paths with varying math requirements; I agree that a community college should not be a high school finishing institution, but until elementary, junior, and high schools teach students how to add and subtract, learn the multiplication tables and know when a calculator result doesn’t make sense, allowing remedial math to be the choice of a Lane student is saying math doesn’t matter at all, countering Ms. Scott’s own claim.

Offering math-free diplomas to increase graduation numbers is a bad idea. Our society needs proof of agreed-upon minimum math competence before a student graduates from high school. Until then, Lane students must deal with the “stress” of learning math. Life is tough.

In the meantime, I hope Ms. Scott understands that teaching compound interest to become financially literate requires algebra: Stating ‘I=prt’ doesn’t allow one to understand continuous compounding any more than showing me middle C on a keyboard means I can find D major. I volunteer at Lane twice weekly by choice to help students. That is how important I think math is; those eight hours weekly are a sacred calling. Yes, sacred, not scared.