Innumeracy

I mentioned Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences a few posts ago. I just finished reading the book this weekend so I thought I’d give my final impression of it.

Basically I’d say it is worth a read if you are interested in mathematics education, statistics, or possibly just math in general. The author basically argues that most people are innumerate and gives many examples to illustrate. The examples are the best part of the book since they often show instances that illustrate a general concept. I became more mindful of the misuse of statistics by others, and particularly the media while reading this book. I can’t say I agree with everything in the book. The author seems to believe that introducing more games and jokes into math curriculum will draw students into the subject. I believe that without a deeper commitment to showing students why a subject will be useful to them they will not engage with the subject. This is basically true of every subject. Full engagement cannot be achieved through jokes.

This weekend my ten year old became a little more engaged in math when she realized that math was important for the woodworking project we are building. She was already interested in the project. I just used this interest in the project to expand her interest in math. I will agree with the author that math teachers need to be better educated. However, with the current trend toward strictly test based assessment in public schools I have little doubt that the situation will remain grim. In order to leverage existing interests there must be a place for those interests in the learning environment. Preparation for standardized tests leaves little room for such endeavors, particularly when teachers are assessed by student performance on the exams. “Extra curricular” activities have been nearly eliminated. It seems most schools foster an environment where there is no room for fun, or at least the one concept most students learn very well is that whatever is going on at school should not be fun. Add to this the shameful level of pay for teachers, and you have an environment that is disappointing even to those who are willing to accept the low pay for the opportunity to make a difference.

This is a book that will make you think, and possibly inspire you to help someone else think a little more rationally. Overall I rate the book at about two beers. It loses a few because it is a little unfocused at times. I think it should have been two books. One on misinterpreting statistics, and a second on the inadequacies of the educational system.

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