Some people believe math is a magic wand. Or, at least, that studying lots of math in school leads to magical economic outcomes.
The current Prime Minister of the UK is one of those who seems to buy into that idea.
Speaking in London to an audience of students, teachers and business leaders, Mr Sunak said children risked being “left behind” in the jobs market without a solid foundation in maths.
A “cultural sense that it’s OK to be bad at maths,” he added, had left the UK one of the least numerate countries in the developed world.
Poor numeracy had proved a problem for employers, he said, and was costing the economy “tens of billions a year”.
Of course, opposition politicians in the UK don’t disagree with the idea of kids taking lots of math classes. Their criticism is that the government isn’t doing enough to train and recruit more teachers.
They do not, however, ever address one basic basic question: why math?. The issue of whether the standard mathematics curriculum (in both the US and UK), which aims them directly towards Calculus, is the right path for all students.
Including the reality that most adults don’t use even a fraction of the math forced on them while in K12 classes, even those working in most technical fields.
And that studying math does very little to help students develop the sense of numeracy they will need to navigate daily life as adults.
It certainly doesn’t make kids into “logical” thinkers or motivate them into job fields that will supposedly restore those lost “tens of billions a year”.
In fact, the way math is presented in most schools contributes heavily to that “anti-maths mindset” blamed by the Prime Minister for “holding back” the British economy.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of systemic problems causing bad economic outcomes that have nothing to do with school. We could start with the stupidity of xenophobia promoted by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and move on from there.
The photo at the top has only a tenuous connection to the topic. But it does include numbers.