Opinion: Americans Need to Show More Respect for Education

Walter Rhein

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It’s pretty discouraging to look at the desolation of America’s political landscape. It would be nice if everyone took a moment to look at themselves in the mirror and ask, “What are we doing?”

It feels impossible to make headway with anyone. People dig in their heels and believe in slippery slope fallacies that have no connection to reality. I know from experience that it's difficult to change people's minds even with facts and figures.

I remember growing up how nobody wanted to get an education. I was educated in a rural community where even the teachers seemed to feel mathematics was a joke.

Today, it’s commonplace for people to make jokes about how little mathematics they know. There’s a trend on social media where people share a basic math problem and the hundreds of comments demonstrate that the general public has no idea how to get the correct answer.

These are not difficult problems. They don’t have any variables. There are no integrals. These are basic order of operations problems.

An order of operations math problem is about the equivalent of learning how to spell a three-letter word.

Yes, everybody thinks it’s funny that they don’t know anything about mathematics. But stop and think about that for a moment. If you can’t solve a basic order of operations math problem, how do you know your boss is calculating your paycheck correctly? Can you figure out all the deductions?

As much as people despise their employers, do people not sit down and check whether there are any errors in their compensation? Do they even have the ability to do that?

This lack of understanding of mathematics is one of the major problems in our society. I’m not saying I’m the best mathematician in the world, but my college minor was physics. I had to take two semesters of calculus. I’m certified to teach physics at the high school level.

In my college physics classes, I learned that your intuition about things is usually wrong. We’d often get problems where the teacher would say, “What do you think the answer is going to be?” We’d give our replies, do the math, and find out that the answer was the opposite.

It turns out, what we call “common sense” in the United States, is often wrong. You’d be able to see that if you sat down and did the mathematics.

I believe there are attacks on education because nefarious forces want the American public to be ignorant. It’s to the advantage of the rest of the world that Americans sit around laughing about how little math they know.

How are you supposed to make any good decisions if you are not able to do even basic calculations? Until this point in history, the United States has had the advantage of being an extremely wealthy continent. There is tremendous mineral wealth and quality farmland here. However, these resources have been exploited for almost two hundred and fifty years.

If the United States wants to retain its elite status in the world, it’s going to need a more educated population. At some point, our country has to understand that the brain power of our young people is our greatest resource.

This is where people start to scoff at the younger generations. When I was growing up, they always ran down Generation X. Now they run down Millennials. If those generations are so “bad” then aren’t the parents to blame?

I assert that there is nothing wrong with any younger generation. The problem is with the older generations that have cut education funding every election cycle since I can remember. In modern society, people think it’s funny how ignorant they are.

It’s not funny. It’s pathetic.

Think about that when you think about the direction our country is headed. Ask yourself how competitive our nation can be on a global scale when our population can’t even do a basic order of operations math problem. Some people don’t even know what the phrase “order of operations” means.

I think we should invest in education. We shouldn't be banning books and academic theories.. Education is freedom. Cuts to education represent control. If you can’t do basic math, society has failed you.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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