Skip to comments.Math Matters
Posted on 02/22/2012 4:15:12 AM PST by Kaslin
If one manages to graduate from high school without the rudiments of algebra, geometry and trigonometry, there are certain relatively high-paying careers probably off-limits for life -- such as careers in architecture, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, medicine and certain technical fields. For example, one might meet all of the physical requirements to be a fighter pilot, but he's grounded if he doesn't have enough math to understand physics, aerodynamics and navigation. Mathematical ability helps provide the disciplined structure that helps people to think, speak and write more clearly. In general, mathematics is an excellent foundation and prerequisite for study in all areas of science and engineering. So where do U.S. youngsters stand in math?
Drs. Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson, senior fellows at the Hoover Institution, looked at the performance of our youngsters compared with their counterparts in other nations, in their Newsweek article, "Why Can't American Students Compete?" (Aug. 28, 2011), reprinted under the title "Math Matters" in the Hoover Digest (2012). In the latest international tests administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 32 percent of U.S. students ranked proficient in math -- coming in between Portugal and Italy but far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. U.S. students couldn't hold a finger to the 75 percent of Shanghai students who tested proficient.
What about our brightest? It turns out that only 7 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced level in math. Forty-five percent of the students in Shanghai are advanced in math, compared with 20 percent in South Korea and Switzerland and 15 percent of students in Japan, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada.
Hanushek and Peterson find one bright spot among our young people. That's Asian-American students, 52 percent of whom perform at the proficient level or higher. Among white students, only 42 percent perform math at a proficient level. The math performance of black and Hispanic students is a disaster, with only 11 and 15 percent, respectively, performing math at the proficient level or higher.
The National Center for Education Statistics revealed some of the results of American innumeracy. Among advanced degrees in engineering awarded at U.S. universities during the 2007-08 academic year, 28 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 2 percent went to Hispanics; and 61 percent went to foreigners. Of the advanced degrees in mathematics, 40 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 50 percent went to foreigners. For advanced degrees in education, 65 percent went to whites; 17 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 8 percent went to foreigners. The pattern is apparent. The more rigorous a subject area the higher the percentage of foreigners -- and the lower the percentage of Americans -- earning advanced degrees. In subject areas such as education, which have little or no rigor, Americans are likelier -- and foreigners are less likely -- to earn advanced degrees.
In a New York Times article -- "Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?" (April 8, 2009) -- Dr. Vivek Wadhwa of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University said "that 47 percent of all U.S. science and engineering workers with doctorates are immigrants as were 67 percent of the additions to the U.S. science and engineering work force between 1995 to 2006. And roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of master's students are foreign nationals."
American mathematic proficiency levels leave a lot to be desired if we're to maintain competitiveness. For blacks and Hispanics, it's a tragedy with little prospect for change, but the solution is not rocket science. During my tenure as a member of Temple University's faculty in the 1970s, I tutored black students in math. When they complained that math was too difficult, I told them that if they spent as much time practicing math as they did practicing jump shots, they'd be just as good at math as they were at basketball. The same message of hard work and discipline applies to all students, but someone must demand it.
“I told them that if they spent as much time practicing math as they did practicing jump shots, they’d be just as good at math as they were at basketball.’
You’ve got to love Walter Williams, he tells it like it is.
Thank you Kaslin.
The message of the OP should be made every day in the USA. I’m one of those who managed to graduate with a BS Degree without algebra skills. This was 35 years ago. It has always bothered me that I don’t posess math skills beyond the very basic.
I’ve made an attempt to correct this by first self-study of basic math and pre-algebra and now I’m taking elementary algebra at my local community college. At age 54, I’m one of the older students in the class, probably the oldest.
Almost everyone in my class above age 30 is in some sort of health care field and trying to advance. It is a shame that the public schools don’t stress math more and that we only get serious about it after we are sick of not having the skills that are necessary to achieve advanced knowledge in most technical fields.
The youngsters, those who are just out of high school seem to posess a serious attitude problem.
If a white professor said that, it would be considered racist. Of course to liberals, even Walter Williams is racist.
A white professor probably would get fired for saying that.
It’s not just an attitude problem, fatboy, it’s that “math is hard,” to quote my neighbor’s high school teenager.
When I was in high school just 10-15 years ago, we weren’t allowed to use calculators in math class. Our teachers were smart and assigned us the odd-numbered problems for math homework, because the even-numbered problems were solved in the back of the book.
*The trick here, I learned, was to DO the even-numbered problems to make sure that I had the concepts down, then do the homework. Yes... I did double my math homework, but I didn’t care.
Nowadays, kids can’t tell time on an analog clock. I had some kid ask me what time it was in the mall. I was on the phone with my fiancee and just flashed my watch at him. He looked at me and said, “Dude, I can’t read that.” No kidding.
Just a few weeks ago I was at a local Publix in the aisle where they sell beer. Miller started selling Miller Lite in 9-packs of 16 oz. beers (144 oz.). A very... white... gentleman with a very tanned neck *wink* went to grab a 12-pack of Miller Lite cans, and I stopped him.
I said, “You can get a 9-pack of 16 oz. cans for a dollar less than that 12-pack, and it’s the same amount of beer.” He looked at me cockeyed.
“That’s less than this here 12-pack, son,” he said to me.
I corrected him, “Actually, nine 16 oz. beers is 144 oz. as is twelve 12 oz. beers. It’s the same quantity for less!”
“That don’t make no sense,” he says, “Why would they sell the same product for less?”
He proceeded to the checkout with the 12-pack. Simple math.
I spent many a night banging my head against my dorm room wall over complex calculus problems for my engineering classes. I actually failed a course called Discrete Math three times. It dealt with path weighting and the like. Now that I work in IT and have actually drawn up network path weighting and priority diagrams, QoS, etc. I could probably ace the class.
The problem, as I see it, is a lack of two things: 1) motivation & 2) practical application. When I was in high school, I could relate to my math homework, because I was also a gearhead and a carpenter’s apprentice using math every day. I used to take apart microwaves and my Nintendo just because I could. I took joy in plugging my voltmeter into wall sockets to check output. I wired my first circuit breaker as a 13 year old. I was motivated to do well, because I wanted to continue to learn and build upon what I already knew; and I was practically applying my knowledge to my skills.
Kids today have smartphones, iPads, iPods, PS3, XBOX, cable TV, Facebook, YouTube, laptops, video games, etc. I tried to explain the very simple formula of Wattage = Amperage x Voltage when my neighbor’s teenager was trying to find a charger for his laptop. I explained to him that if he used one that put out too much amperage, it’ll fry his battery. He was more concerned with finding a charger with a plug that fit his laptop. His battery overheated while charging and melted the wires going to his wireless NIC. Now he wants me to fix it.
Sadly, future generations are going to be asking Asian kids to fix their problems. Ignorance truly is bliss.
Excellent - thanks for posting!
Even if it's only to balance their checkbook or calculate sales tax.
Back before check-out scanners I purchased three items priced at two for a dollar. The clerk had to lock the register to ask the manger how much to charge me for the third one.. true story.
And now I hear that they are discontinuing teaching multiplication tables as everyone has a calculator, and cursive writing as nobody writes longhand any more.
I am glad to have had an education when it was one...
There is no question that the Asia kids do better in school.
Are they brighter? Perhaps. But perhaps no brighter than the rest of us.
But what they have in spades is a cultural discipline that says: Do Good in School and Life Will Be Better For You. And that discipline is strictly enforced, father to son and mother to daughter. Tight disciplined and hard working families are what lead Asian kids to success in school.
You’re right. We are turning out fewer and fewer graduates that know what they are doing when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math. In particular this is worrisome to engineering-based defense contractors (ie. not services based) who need a steady supply of scientists and engineers - who are US citizens and can obtain a security clearance. I don’t think it is a problem yet, but the trends are alarming enough that several of them have taken notice and are taking action. (eg. Raytheon’s MathMovesU initiative, see http://www.mathmovesu.com/#/home)
I was in a fast food joint a number of years ago when the cash register stopped working during my transaction. The kid behind the counter couldn’t figure out my change when I handed him a 20. He had to call in the manager. The manager pulled out his calculator to figure it out.
Despite my young age of 32, I believe mine may have been one of the last generations to receive a thorough education. I learned cursive, how to determine change, how to tell analog time, and my multiplication tables over 25 years ago.
I was at WalMart yesterday, and the cashier accidentally keyed in $30 over the amount paid in cash. She had to get a handheld calculator out to figure out that she had to give back $30 less than what was on the screen. This girl had to be 18, maybe 20.
Everytime I pay in cash, which is often, I do the quick math in my head to figure out how much change I should get back. These kids rely on computers and machines to do their thinking, and I’ve more than once caught them giving me incorrect change. It’s pitiful, really.
In his simple mind, 12 > 9, and that’s good enough.
Are they brighter? Perhaps. But perhaps no brighter than the rest of us.
Do a search for abacus on YouTube. That's your answer. I learned math on an abacus, and I can still do relatively simple calculations in the air in front of me as if I was doing it on one. Asian cultures live with abaci from a very young age, and many videos on YouTube will show you that some of the most impressive math feats done by kids are done while they "finger out" the math on an invisible abacus.
Now where did I put mine...
Well, and you would think that telling them that savings of a dollar can be realized would make them take pause, but in the simple numbers game, verifiable quantity means more.
Hell, they even put the price per ounce on the price stickers in most of the grocers around here.
Obviously math skills in our black community are low...just listen to His Excellency tell us about how he is going to balance the budget.
Jump shots? How about fisting and Lesbo agenda in schools, politics construed as health and biology education?
Some math indeed... Math? Hmmm... What’s that? (sarc off)
God is a mathematician.