Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quantitative Literacy

According to a recent study, 36 percent of college students don’t significantly improve in critical thinking during their four-year tenure. 'These students had trouble distinguishing fact from opinion, and cause from correlation,' Goldin explained.
The above words from mathematician/statistician Rebecca Goldin come near the beginning of this new piece in Quanta Magazine:

The title of the piece is “Why Math Is the Best Way To Make Sense of the World.” I fear the title may be the very sort that turns people away from it, or at least many of those who most need to read it — just mention 'math' in some sort of positive light and a lot of the ‘I-was-never-any-good-at-math’ folks will turn away out of disinterest :(
And if college-bound students aren’t gaining critical thinking skills over their 4-year sojourn, what can we expect of the non-college crowd who may have even less opportunity to be exposed to critical-thinking skills?
But critical thinking shouldn’t even begin with college; it should begin back in elementary school with language skills, which are themselves fundamentally entwined in critical thinking. Nonetheless, the above article (and interview with Goldin) is excellent and focused on the societal value of math and science at the university level -- there are several lines in it I’d love to quote, but just go read it for yourself and take to heart this central message: “…if we don’t have the ability to process quantitative information, we can often make decisions that are more based on our beliefs and our fears than based on reality.
Interestingly, this article appears at a time that topics like critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, innumeracy and the like are getting a fair amount of discussion in society, though I’m not confident that we’re even close to dispensing such skills to the population-at-large, nor to upcoming generations. In fact I fear quite the opposite; it may be too little too late in a digital world of speed, simplification, and reality-manipulation... hope I'm wrong, but the Machiavellians who plotted the path of our current Oval Office interloper knew all-too-well that appeals to base instincts could overcome appeals to critical thought. :(

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