Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Question of Math Literacy

There is a paucity of interesting math education stories on the internet. In my search, I found this fragment from

Our organization, the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy, has just released the startling results of a survey that shows our financial literacy tracks our math skills.

According to our survey, the same math problems plaguing 15-year-olds continue to vex us into adulthood. The average American cannot answer basic math questions involving percentages.

For example, 65 percent of respondents could not identify what remained if you subtracted 25 percent from eight. Another question revealed that 1 in 3 adults could not calculate 1 percent of 50,000.

Although the point of the article is pertinent to the state of math education in the nation, I can understand how so many people might not be able to identify "what remained if you subtracted 25 percent from eight".

The question is ambiguous. Does it mean "what remains if you subtract 25% of eight from eight?" Or, does it mean "what remains if you subtract 25/100 from 8?" These two questions have very different answers.

This being so, the problem seems to be with the illiteracy of the person who posed the question, and not the innumeracy of the person trying to answer it.

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