Good polls, confusing polls and politicizing math are the focus of our martinis on Wednesday. Jim and Greg are glad to see Republican U.S. Senate challenger John James already in a virtual dead heat with Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan. They also shake their heads as a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows a majority of Americans support Medicare for All but oppose it by large margins when they actually understand it means the end of private insurance. And they throw up their hands as school officials in Seattle consider adding an emphasis on ethnic studies into all subjects, including taking time in math class to explain how math is oppressive to people of color and is used to exploit natural resources.

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It’s entirely appropriate for math classes to deal with just the “nuts and bolts” of math. Applications such as making up a family budget belong in some kind of Home Economics class or the like, since a budget – or a student loan, or a mortgage, etc – involves more than just the math used to make some calculations.

Gary Peters is an old finance guy, a gray corporate man of the blandest of stripes.

John James is anything but bland. Here’s hoping he’s our next US Senator. It would be nice to have some representation on my side.

That is an old model. Math class teaches math. Home economics teaches budgeting. Finance teaches loans. Etc. I think it would be good to see math taught in practical and applicable ways. Ben Franklin suggested that we should teach living languages, such as French or Spanish, first, and then progress to the dead Latin. Same concept. Yes, Latin is useful, although it is not easily understandable why it is useful for most folks. Same with math. Let’s teach it practically, working our way up to the more abstract forms.

I was a pure math major in college. Not even an applied math major. That was great when I planned on becoming a math professor. I could love it for the pure, abstract beauty. But when I decided that being a mathematics professor wasn’t for me, I went to my then current professor and asked, “How can I apply this? Besides being a professor, where can I get a job?” The answer was vague, “Well, there are certainly some defense applications…” I finished that year as a math major, and then changed majors and universities. Further math classes were no longer applicable to my future life. I suspect humans learn better when they have a concrete purpose to learn things.

Maybe. But many of the basics of math need to be learned before any kind of “application” is really possible. Aside from the simplest of “story problems” such as “Nancy has 5 apples. If she gives 2 apples to her friend Suzie, how many apples does Nancy have left?” So you’re still going to end up teaching basic math perhaps up to the High School years. And there are many life-skills areas besides figuring mortgages, I think it makes more sense to combine life-skills teaching rather than to “meddle” those other things into different courses, which to me sounds too much like adding “woke studies” to math etc.

Home Economics is also a good place to learn application of other aspects of math such as fractions, even including recipes.

One problem I see people run into is if they get too wrapped up in practical and don’t really learn and understand the abstracts. When that happens they don’t really end up doing the practical well, and they can’t extend their skills any farther and they often make stupid mistakes because the practical things are all they know, and – at least somewhat – understand.

Some people after learning regular/basic math might proceed to classes in statistics etc, where stuff like mortgages and budgets would be covered in even more detail. Those whose needs are less complex could take the classes that deal with regular-life math issues.

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And I suspect – after 60 years’ experience of meeting people – there are a fair number of people for whom even trying to figure out a mortgage would be more than they can handle. Should they be required to take and end up failing a “required” course rather than having it be a separate optional class?

For sure, though, the teaching of budgeting and mortgages etc need to be handled separately from other electives such as calculus.

If you think this, it is because you have had very bad teachers. Figuring out mortgages or change at a grocery store is not complex math. While there may be some use of exponents or even calculus, it is of a variety that could be done with nothing more than addition and multiplication. Learning the other notations are just short cuts.

Well except many – perhaps most – of the issues regarding mortgages, and even household budgets etc, aren’t just about the basic math. And really, comparing mortgages with making change is a bit much too.

Well, perhaps you are closer to the mean than I. (Or, as I said, you had poor examples of math teachers. A lot of teachers end up teaching subject X, not because of expertise or understanding, but because somebody has to do it.)

Or maybe you’re thinking mortgages are simpler than they really are, especially these days. When you deal with “points” and such. Also adjustable rates, which aren’t exactly math – or at least not basic math – but often figure into how things turn out. Also private mortgage insurance, and many other details.

As for making change, as far as I’m concerned if you can’t do it in your head, you aren’t doing it right. Teaching kids to work out making change on paper, doesn’t seem like much of a skill.

I know what mortgages are. Years ago, I worked for a finance company.

So you know it’s not just math, not just A principle amount at B interest rate for C years, etc.

Points and adjustable rates are also just math. Not only that, but they are just simple math that one should have learned in grade school.

The answers are calculated with math, but what goes into the calculations is more than just math. Which is why mortgages – for one example – do not belong in a regular math class.

What else goes in? Current interest rate? We can look that up. What else goes in that is “more than just math?”

Credit scores, what happens when adjustable rates change, mortgage insurance and what can happen if those requirements change over time… same with taxes, including the tax write-offs of mortgage interest…