Something my father said to me numerous times when I was a kid.

I was approximately 10 years old, struggling with my math homework. I was having a hard time to understand something, and he apparently got frustrated trying to help me out.
Knowing that he has quite a temper (and has passed it on to me as well), I'm aware that shouldn't take things he says while upset that seriously. And since math was the only subject he was good at as a child, hoping the same from his children is understandable. Furthermore, a common conception is that one must be either athletic or intelligent to succeed in life. And I'm definitely not athletic.

What if he really meant it?
What if he was right?

Possessing weak skills with numbers - or more specifically my lack of motivation to study the subject - did almost destroy my chances at graduating from lukio. I still made it, but only to find out that getting in to almost every Finnish university or a similar school I'd be interested in requires the applicant to be a genius mathematician. Even when the subject doesn't involve much or any number-crunching at all.
And with no education, I'll be stuck in dead end jobs like the one I'm currently in, with no hope for a raise, let alone a promotion.

Was he right?

Should I just kill myself now, instead of wasting society's resources for the duration of my life as a B-class human being?

Hell no.

I simply refuse to believe that there is neither hope nor future for people like myself. Maybe I should make my goal of life to disprove the old man's theory.
Then again, why bother? I for one don't measure the quality of my existence by $$$ alone. For 21.5 years, I have been a happy individual without the big bucks.

Just let me go on being ignorant.
I'm sure I can survive.
I think there are a couple of issues here, not the least of which is whether you can be happy without substantial monetary success (to which I can attest, the answer is a resounding yes). But does a knowledge of math help, no matter what your station in life? Again, I think the answer is a definite yes. Do you have to know the minutiae of Lie's Algebra or some other esoteric branch of the field? No.

Perhaps I should take a step back here. I write for a living. Up until now, I've been something of a hack, writing brochures, newsletters, educational pieces, stuff like that. In this capacity, I'm generally surrounded by "creative" people, ranging from the actually creative (such as graphic artists) to the hangers-on (such as the people who deal with--ugh-- "concepting" ... *shudder*). I have found that an emormous number of these people have no clue about anything having to do with math. I don't mind it at all in those who have a real creative gift--hell, why should they care anyway?--but I am of the firm opinion that the latter are the tip of a large iceberg, a large class in America who couldn't do long division to save their lives.

I was once asked by a colleague if I could design an Excel spreadsheet that calculated percentages, like how much something grew over a year. I said, "What??" It turned out, of course, that she had no idea how to calculate a percentage change at all; had she had a clue, she could have spent 5 seconds with a basic calculator and gone on to bigger and better things. This enshrined her, in my opinion, in the Hall of Stupid People. This esteemed bunch also includes every cashier who has to check the machine twice in order to give you (sometimes) the correct change.

Math is one of those skills that I believe shows basic intelligence. All things being equal, I would rather hire a person with good, solid math skills (not a mathematician, mind you, but someone who can add) than one without. Can you succeed without math? Sure. Does math help? Yes. I like understanding what it means to be able to find the slope of a curve at any given point. I like understanding the significance of the difference between absolute and relative measurements. And I sure as hell like knowing that I could deliver change faster than the idiot behind the store counter.

I for one fail to see why there are adults in first world countries (my only experience is in the United States, but in theory should be applicable to the rest of the first world, and parts of the second and third) who can't do some (or in a few cases, any) of the four basic operations on reasonably small numbers (3 digits or less for multiplication and division, 4-5 for addition and subtraction).

For those of you wondering, yes, I'm gifted at math and enjoy it. But I have literally seen people who cannot add 2 and 4. I tutor students in math at my high school to earn my state-required service hours (20 over the course of four years; met long ago) and International Baccalaureate-required CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service)hours. Most of them understand the basic operations, and, if we're lucky, all the courses up to, but not including, their current one.

Every once in a while, we get a student or three who cannot do the basic operations, and in many cases, cannot tell the difference between them. I doubt they'd get very far without at least some understanding of math. What's really sad though is that most of them, even the worst of them, understand the concepts quickly when they're explained (or they're really good at feigning understanding). Their only real problem was that they never tried. There are of course a few who have deeper problems with math, such as trying to learn precalculus without knowing much algebra. That one took a few weeks.

Also, why is it that it is perfectly acceptable (at least in the US) to be terrible at math, but not acceptable to be terrible at language arts? If I'm a math and computer geek, am I really going to need to know exactly what Shakespeare meant in Hamlet's (infamous) soliloquoy ("To be or not to be...")? I plan on going into engineering, where the most I'd use those arcane language arts skills is in reports, proposals, presentations, etc. At my high school, it is possible to graduate without passing algebra 1. There are literally over 20 different math tracks there. But everyone is required to take 4 years of English, which, regardless of level, is basically four years of literary analysis. End rant.

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