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Are We Creating Mathematical Illiterates?

Mathematics is no more the manipulation of symbols than music is the manipulation of notes.

Adam Hrankowski, ADHD
MathAdam
Published in
4 min readJan 5, 2020

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You’ve likely seen the posts on Facebook or elsewhere. “Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used Algebra once!” A Google search of this sentence turns up many images, including those of T-shirts and at least one tote bag. Go ahead. Copy and paste the image below. You’ll likely garner several LOL’s.

But is this a statement you really want to make? How would you feel about posting: “Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t read anything”? We frequently hear, “I’m not a math person.” Do we ever hear, “I’m not a language person.” We’re a culture that values literacy — at least being able to decode words from a page. However, mathematical inability seems to be something to be proud of, or at least to post to Facebook or on a tote bag.

Well, another day has passed and I still haven’t used Algebra once!
Flaunting mathematical illiteracy?

Can you blame anyone, though, who shows apathy — or even hostility — towards mathematics? I overheard my sixth grade teacher confide to a colleague that he didn’t think the math he was teaching us was worthwhile, since we could use calculators. And this was 45 years ago, before we all carried in our pockets computers with 100,000 times the processing power of the one aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

Imagine reading a novel, and having to look up every other word in the dictionary. How well would you follow the story?

If your teacher passes on the notion that mathematics education is a necessary evil, it will stick with you. Fast forward four and a half decades, and I see students instinctively reaching for the calculator at the slightest whiff of any number. Imagine reading a novel, and having to look up every other word in the dictionary. How well…

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Adam Hrankowski, ADHD
MathAdam

Canadian math guy, experimenting with fiction. Find my new scifi/fantasy serial here: https://unaccompaniedminor.substack.com/