Andrea Tantaros and the Idiocracy of Mathematics

“The fact of the matter is, mathematics is the base of our civilization. That is, we wouldn’t have streets, planes, trains, and automobiles without it.”

By Matt Johnson, The Systems Scientist

In a segment on the Fox News show Outnumbered earlier this week, co-host Andrea Tantaros stated

I whole heartily agree with this professor. I struggled. I had honors English, but in math I need[ed] a little bit of help…I actually took algebra 1 twice, and barely passed algebra 2, but when it came to trigonometry, I said you know what, my time can be better served studying languages. So I went in an argued with the guidance counselor that I should not be required to take trigonometry and calculus. And that I should take languages ’cause that’s something I can use when I get out.

This comment, in response to a recent book titled The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions by Andrew Hacker, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Queens College in New York, is concerning not only for Tantaros’ ignorance of mathematics and how our civilization wouldn’t exist without mathematics, but it illustrates a trend among those who are privileged to voice their opinions on national television like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and in news papers across the United States.

As the readers of this website know from the recent article Modern American Journalism, Not a Place for Science, only The New York Times promotes their “Science” section on the home page of its website, and this is out of 30 major news papers. And Tantaros’ comments only add concern to this issue.

The fact of the matter is, mathematics is the base of our civilization. That is, we wouldn’t have streets, planes, trains, and automobiles without it. It is also responsible for our communication devices. For example, that cell phone she uses throughout the day is the product of several forms of mathematics, science, and engineering.

And sure, she doesn’t have to learn abstract algebra and number theory to know how to use it. But does she know that those forms of mathematics provide security to her cell phone? Or does she realize that there are mathematical applications utilized by materials scientists and engineers to improve the durability and communication capability to her hand-held device with each generation, i.e., the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and so and so forth? But I don’t hold Ms. Tantaros completely responsible.

This was probably not something her math teachers cared to share with her. Matter of fact, they probably didn’t know. Ironically, the applications of mathematics seem to be oblivious to many math teachers, math professors, and mathematicians as well. So in defense of her and her statement, she is not responsible for the idiocracy of mathematics. She is a product of it. But she’s still responsible for her curiosity and interest in seeking out new knowledge and information, especially with access to millions of viewers. Why? As she exclaims in the video

You’re not using algebra that much in your normal life.

Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. Our species uses algebra and other forms of mathematics everyday and throughout the day. Every member of our species uses it intuitively even if they don’t have formal training in mathematics as was illustrated in the article Go Tell It to the Mathematicians.

The fact of the matter is we use algebra and different forms of mathematics all the time. Let’s use Ms. Tantaros as an example. She makes it clear she likes to shop. So let’s say she has $50, which I’m positive she would spend more money than that, but I digress. And let’s say the jeans she’s interested in purchasing cost $25 each. How many pairs of jeans can she purchase (post your answer in the comments section)?

Let’s say Ms. Tantaros has $200 dollars and she wants to purchase bottles of wine and blocks of cheese. We know she spent time studying in Paris, France, so this example is also completely applicable to her. Let’s say each bottle cost $50 and a block of cheese cost $25. How many bottles of wine and blocks of cheese could she purchase (post your answer below in the comments sections; there are multiple answers)?

I could do this all day and this is my point. Not only is mathematics intuitive for us, but we use it to determine how much of something we need and how much of something we can get. We do this for food; we do this for clothing; we do this for our bank accounts; we do this for the electricity and utilities bill (if you’re paying attention); and we do this for a plethora of other daily activities.

So yeah, Ms. Tantaros, you did use algebra after passing algebra 1 and 2, and after arguing your way out of trigonometry and calculus. And you still do. It’s just too bad you’re not able to convey this fact through national television. And it’s too bad you didn’t realize that you missed an opportunity to learn nature’s language, mathematics. But perhaps this is because you are a product of the idiocracy of mathematics?

To watch the Outnumbered segment that this article addresses, see the link below. For more information about the lack of “Science” sections in urban news papers, feel free to explore the article Modern American Journalism, Not a Place for Science; and for more information on our natural intuition for mathematics, feel free to explore Go Tell It to the Mathematicians.

**Remember, there is nothing more American than discourse. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated!


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