My older daughter was working on percentages and ratios earlier today and happened to remark to me, “Daddy said this is the math I’ll find myself using most often – in the grocery store and stuff like that.”
We started listing off kinds of math and where they were most used. (Yes, I know there’s probably a better term for “kinds of math.” English major – give me a break.) We came up with the math you use shopping (percentages), and the math you use baking (fractions), and the math you use if you’re an architect or a carpenter (geometry), and the math you use keeping track of your spending and even, for us old people, balancing a checkbook (good old adding and subtracting). . .we were at this for a while.
I said, “I wish they would divide math up for you in school that way. Let you know what kinds of math are just good to learn because learning them helps you think better and what kinds of math you will use later.”“Yes,” she said; “there’s the math you learn just because it helps your brain grow and think logically, and the math you will use buying cookies.”
I am a huge proponent of the liberal arts. I have a B.A., several M.A.’s, and a Ph.D. in liberal arts-related fields – my only non-liberal arts degree is the library science one. I believe in learning for its own sake as a way of building character and connecting us with the transcendent.
I also believe that it wouldn’t hurt us to tell people when we’re learning things that are learned not for their own sake, or even for our own sake alone, but to make us more informed and more competent citizens and consumers – and make us ready to contribute to the common good. Wherever and in whatever ways we find ourselves being educated, we need to learn some of both kinds of things.
Just a few thoughts. But I’m definitely going to divide things in my head now between what I’m learning to help my brain grow and what I’m learning so I can buy cookies.