Why You Need Math: A Guide

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22 thoughts on “Why You Need Math: A Guide

    • I cannot agree more.
      Math is important, but teachers have no idea why.

      I believe ath is important because it is like practice for general logical thinking.

  1. People always ask me “why do we need math” just so they can pull me into arguments why math knowledge is essentially useless in the modern world. Lately I’ve been simply telling them “I need it because I love it” and ask them to please leave me alone.

    • I love Ioana’s reply – the simple rationale that “I am a math person.” I know people who are inherently drawn to math & its applications; who (like myself) are quote unquote English types, and then the blessed ambidextrous few like you, Ben. But converts? Even rarer. I work with K-12 teachers all over the country and have met a couple, and it all came down to meaningful instruction. My big question is this: can math instruction be made more meaningful (and thus converting to those more drawn to conflict in story vs puzzles) without having to address the “When am I going to use this” for anything past about Algebra 1? I’m working on some approaches but would love to hear from others.

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  3. They sure have invented a lot of new math since I went to school. I’ve never heard of some of these things, like Riemann sums and circle equations.

    And I’ve lived all these years without knowing I need to know it.

    • Reimann is worth learning about. Probably the best known unsolved problem in Mathematics is the Reimann hypothesis.

      The Reimann sum defines the integral in calculus.

      Reimann also made very important contributions to non-Euclidean geometry and complex analysis. A hall of famer (if there were a mathematician’s hall of fame).

  4. It is strange that math seems to get this treatment. Not so many people go around saying “why do we need to learn history?” Maybe we would be better off saying you don’t need it.

    I suppose I fit theory 4. Although, I like the argument that you should learn math purely for the aesthetics.

    “Why do you we need poetry?” “You don’t, now write 500 words on ‘The Flea.'”

  5. Hey Ben, wonderful post, as usual. And personally, I’ve always thought your drawings were quite good :-).

    That being said, I think you’re missing the most important reason we teach math, in my humble opinion.

    I say the reason we teach math is because it is beautiful and eternal. We teach math so that our students can engage with objects that inhabit an eternal, immaterial space. We teach math so that students can, dare I say, “taste the divine.” Math is the single place in school where students can find deductive certainty and eternal truth. We have a corner on the market. (See two of Randall Monroe’s famous strips here and here.) Even when human activity ceases, math will persist. When we study math, we tap into something bigger than ourselves.

    Utilitarian “need” or “usefulness” is certainly one framework from which to approach education, but historically it’s not the most important. If I were to pinpoint the usefulness of the the “beautiful and eternal” approach to math, I would say that we learn math because we want our students to experience a liberal education, able to converse with intelligent people in every field throughout society. What say you?

    **By the way, I’ve borrowed a few of my arguments from this article, which I posted a while ago on my blog.

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  7. It is quite simple: You learn to think better and finally see how quite intangible things fit together on grand scale. If you are not interested it is your loss on so many levels.

    **Strolls back to a basement**

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