(Don’t be) bad at math

Although it’s tempting to blame the problem on a failure of “the system,” it was ultimately the result of millions of individual decisions, most of which involved a real estate agent arguing that prices could only go up, a mortgage broker offering an unaffordable loan, and a customer buying into the real estate hype while ignoring the fact that the mortgage payments would become outsized relative to his or her income. In short, many of us ignored the mathematical reality staring us in the face.

Perhaps I’m overly idealistic, but I believe that with better math education—and especially with more emphasis on quantitative reasoning—many more people would have questioned the bubble before it got out of hand. We can’t change the past, but I hope this lesson will convince you that we all need to get over being “bad at math.”

So with that in mind, I’ll urge you to start by making sure we recognize statements of being “bad at math” for what they are: a contagious social disease, which can be transmitted both from one adult to another and, far worse, from adults to children. After all, when a child hears an otherwise successful adult saying that he or she is “bad at math,” it’s natural for the child to assume that this must be OK.

For this reason, the first thing we must all do to stop the spread of the disease is to commit to never saying “I’m bad at math” (or similar) again. Even in the unlikely case that you actually are bad at math (and you’re probably better at it than you think), please don’t say it. We need kids to know that it’s no more acceptable to have a bad attitude toward math as toward reading, writing, or any other critical skill.

This piece is adapted from Chapter 1 of Math for Life (Big Kid Science, 2014) by Jeffrey Bennett, Ph.D. Read additional excerpts and learn more about the book at www.Math-for-Life.com, or visit the author’s website www.JeffreyBennett.com.

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