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Are You “Good” At Math?

Seth Godin on being good at math.

It’s tempting to fall into the trap of believing that being good at math is a genetic predisposition, as it lets us off the hook. The truth is, with few rare exceptions, all of us are capable of being good at math.

So, what does he mean by “math”? I suspect most people believe they are not “good” at math (or as I’ve been told, not a “math person”) because they got lost in and bored with the highly mechanical approach inflicted on most students.

For the math taught in most schools, especially at the elementary level, “being good” is largely a waste of time. Is completing page after page of problems by hand using standard algorithms a valuable skill, when the calculator found on almost any mobile device could get the same result faster and more accurately?1

Understanding the mathematics behind the PowerBall lottery, and why money spent on tickets is likely a really crappy “investment”, now that’s something that would benefit a student for their whole life.

But let’s face it. We all know what “being good” at math really means: passing the test.

Being good at standardized math tests is useless. These tests measure nothing of real value, and they amplify a broken system.

For a business guy, Godin has a pretty good understanding of American education.


  1. Dave

    I mostly love Seth’s comments on this, but I abhor that he blames it on students not having a teacher who “cared” enough. The real formula is more complicated: teacher passion x parent expectations x time & resources x home life x training x etc x etc x etc

    Yes, the nature of math is that if we increase teacher passion to an infinitely large number, it can overcome everything else…but it’s deeply flawed to place the entire burden of responsibility there. Real improvement will come from continually finding the biggest problem causers and lowest hanging fruit across all the inputs, and solving them. That will include teacher passion, when appropriate.

    • tim

      You make a good point. These days people both blame teachers for everything wrong with American education and attribute super powers to them if only they were more passionate or smarter or not unionized or something else. The real answer to a better education system is a combination of many factors, most of which are outside the control of schools.

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