Math is more than arithmetic

Math education is about more than arithmetic. Everyone needs to know how to perform basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, basic stuff with fractions, decimals, percents, consumer math, and so forth). If your kids are still working on those things, then by all means, keep working, because they will use all of that stuff for the rest of their lives!

Career-wise, though, not everyone out there is going to go become an engineer or a professional mathematician, so questions arise at times along the lines of “Why would I need to know about [asymptotes, imaginary numbers, matrices, or whatever the challenge du jour is]”.

Let me suggest a few reasons for pursuing math beyond the basics of arithmetic:

  1. Advanced math requires kids to think in the abstract. This is a life skill because not all problems we tend to deal with are always concrete.
  2. Advanced math requires generalization. Future employees and future business owners are better at what they do when they can generalize…because they have learned not just how to solve “this problem”, but how to solve all kinds of “problems like this”. As an employer, I leap at the opportunity to hire someone who can generalize over someone who can’t.
  3. Advanced math aids in problem solving skills. This translates well to other disciplines (including non-academic disciplines) that a kid may be interested in (even if he’s not interested in pure math).
  4. Math, perhaps more than anything else the teenager focuses on, has the ability to open doors to the future. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve declined to hire someone for a job because the applicant lacked basic analytical skills or basic “numeracy”. Even in non-math roles, I love to have employees who are able to think about the quantitative impact of what they are doing and make recommendations accordingly.
  5. Sometimes a kid thinks, “I can’t do this because I’m not a math person” because something was hard or because something is hard for us as parents. Whether they are a “math person” or not, I don’t know – because I’m not really sure what that is. But I do know one thing: if you want to do this, you can do it. And to the extent I’m able, I want to help you!

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