Why math? Getting a better job

This is part of a series on “Why math?”

Getting a better job

First of all, let’s get a few things out of the way:

  1. Can learning math help your kids get a better job?  Yes!
  2. Can learning math make your kids be better at their jobs?  Also yes!
  3. Can learning math help you even if your job doesn’t need it?  Yes, but it’s complicated.  That’s for other answers in this series of blog posts.And most importantly:
  4. Is getting a better job important enough to justify what we put our kids through to get it?  My answer to that is a solid “Maybe”.  The details are in the rest of this post.

But we’d better get a few things clear before we talk more about this.  Probably the most important thing we have to understand about all this is that we are not talking about teaching kids to be computers.  Computers are everywhere, and are incredibly cheap nowadays.  I, personally, carry around an absurdly powerful computer everywhere I go.  (It can also be used to make phone calls!)  Businesses have more computers than they know what to do with.  Nobody gets paid to be a computer any more.

No, the math we need to teach our kids is the kind that lets them use computers, and use them well.  Doing that requires really understanding the math the computer is doing.  If you tell the computer to do the wrong thing, it will happily do the wrong thing a million times in one second!  Brilliant, you just got the right answer to the wrong question and can now happily do the wrong thing for the next six months—this doesn’t go over well anywhere I would want to work.

So with all of that said, lets get down to the really important question:  Is getting a better job a good enough reason to make our math education worth it?

I’d say that on the average, yes,  if we improve how math is taught.  If we can manage to not drive students away by giving them only the boring bits, then there are going to be many more students who will discover that, hey, this math thing is kind of cool!  Those students can get a better, more useful job, and actually like it while they do it.  Even the ones who don’t actually like it are more likely to understand it, and that alone will help them in whatever other job they find they enjoy.

Even with all of that, though, it still seems like we need to consider what to do with those kids who, for whatever reason, really won’t get a better job because of the way we teach math.  Even there, I believe that some of the other reasons I listed will be good enough reasons to teach our children math.  Stay tuned.

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