August 3, 2011
Math-for-life

Why do I need to know math?

We recently took up some grass to expand our perennial garden. The question was: How much mulch to cover the area to a depth of 3 inches?

I’m glad I paid attention in my math classes.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some math teachers say:

“Mathematics has a pervasive and essential influence on all aspects of everyday life when explaining and controlling natural occurrences and events,” says Nancy Casten, chair of the Mathematics Department at Front Range’s Larimer Campus. “Mathematics builds logical reasoning, deduction, pattern recognition, and calculation skills that are necessary for business, art, science, technology, and life in general. Math is entertaining, beautiful, and fun.”

Mary Sokol, chair of Mathematics at the Boulder County Campus, says, “Most employers, no matter what your career, feel that a strong math background better enables you to ‘logically’ confront obstacles and transitions in the work place. Therefore, more math means more job opportunities!”

And Jim Voss, chair of Mathematics at the Westminster Campus, says, “Studying math is useful. Being competent at math allows us to make better life decisions when dealing with budgets, loans, retirement plans, and more. Math has the added value of being intrinsically rich for those who like to solve puzzles.”

But enough of this shameless self-promotion of Front Range. Allow me some shameless promotion of my family. I asked our son, Eddie, who is a middle school math teacher in Seattle:

“This is a great question because being able to answer the why is very important to middle school students. The simple answer is mathematics is in everything around us. Mathematics teaches one to think critically and solve problems. Both of those skills are highly valued in the work world.

“Building on that, mathematics expands our view of the world, and compels us to investigate the maximal and the minuscule. Mathematics allows us to explain, analyze, and interpret not only systematic behaviors like the alteration of day and night, but also chaotic behaviors such as turbulence and earthquakes. A person interested in these types of things should study applied mathematics.

“Mathematics is not only in the universe, but it is also its own universe. It is built on a few axioms and operates on a series of mathematical objects, one of which is numbers. It has its own rules, and it is formed and deduced through logic. While studying pure mathematics one can appreciate the elegance of building so much from just a few axioms or find out what happens when a new system is built with different axioms.”

So there are four perspectives on why math is important. What do you think? How has math been valuable in your life or helped you solve problems?

About the author:

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College. He’s a retired soccer referee and newspaper editor whose subscription ran out.