Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rant: Just for kids?

Search Google News for stories about mathematics and you'll find that they are dominated by a particular subsection of our society: kids. It seems that the only people in the world doing mathematics are children. Very occasionally
you'll see a story about an adult, but then it's usually about an adult teaching children. Do a search on history and you'll see some actual history. Search on physics and you'll get stories about kids mixed in with stories about people doing actual physics. So why are there so few stories about adults doing mathematics?


It's not just in news stories. Look at Texas Instruments' and Hewlett Packard's web sites and you'll see that calculators are largely marketed towards kids. TI are much worse on this front. They have powerful calculators that can solve all kinds of real world problems and yet they're not being marketed as devices for solving such problems, they're about getting kids through exams. HP at least have a section for professionals. Even so, in the old days if an HP calculator had exchangeable faceplates it was so that you could label the keys with new functions, but now it's to change the colour to make it look cool. The only people working with numbers are clearly children.


On closer inspection I see that I was wrong. I missed a story. It's about an adult. No mention of children or education. Ah...it's about an adult who can't do mathematics.


So clearly no adults use mathematics. So why do we bother teaching children a skill they'll never use in adulthood?

3 comments:

s3d said...

I have seen 3d programmers who were barely able to work 4x4 matrices. I also had a trouble to explain what does topology of the mesh mean to another CS major person working in 3d graphics. I suspect it's quite common in the software industry. SO it's not only random persons who have problem with math...

sigfpe said...

I'm amazed how many people get into computer graphics via computer science rather than, say, mathematics. It's considered to be a branch of computer science in fact. This makes no sense to me at all. The toughest part of 3D rendering is mostly either geometry, physics or numerical methods. People who study computer science aren't really grounded in these subjects. The computer science parts of 3D graphics (eg. programming languages, efficient datastructures, parsing scene descriptions and so on) are easy to learn by comparison.

Algebraowl said...

Adult attitudes towards math are strongly thumbs up/thumbs down. Unless an adult is in a profession that openly and obviously uses mathematics, said adult tends to be negative towards mathematics. Even with that said, many adults don't recognize, or are in denial, how often mathematics is part adult life. I've met people who believe architects are trained in art schools. In general, I believe, unless adults are good at math, they are not interested except for making sure their kids are good enough at math to go to college and never study math again.

On a personal level, sometimes I get in a snippy mood when I meet new people and I let them know what I do in stages:
"I teach." Perceived response: mild acceptance that I'm worth something.
"I teach eighth graders." Fluctuating admiration and pity.
"I teach Algebra to eighth graders." Quick, readily seen blast of fear across the eyes as if I'm about to pop a quiz.

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