America’s “Math” Problem

You are sitting in row 18 of a commercial airplane. Passengers are asked to exit from the front of the aircraft. Rows 1-4 deplane, then 5-10, and so on. There are 6 passengers in row 17. They’re standing to move forward down the carefully illuminated aisle. How can it be that someone from row 19 is already in the aisle queuing?

You are departing a commuter ferry. 2 lines form to cross a single-file gangway. A person from Lane 1 steps forward. A person from Lane 2 follows. This continues. Just before you make the giant step from Lane 1 to the gangway, a heavily perfumed woman from Lane 2 bum rushes a dapper older gent also from Lane 2.

WTF? See what I mean? If we can’t answer the question of “what number logically follows (row) 17?” or complete the following infinite sequence ‘1212121212’ what chance do we really have to beat the Indians or Chinese?

The world of transportation is not the only venue our lack of facility with numbers is exposed. Just this morning I received two reports. One showed our industry growing by 3% versus the same month last year. The second report showed it shrinking by -2.4% over that same period.

Banks and businesses routinely claim to be on the precipice of going under yet pay out incredible bonuses to key employees with perfect hair. “They had great years” the bosses say.

Seems the numbers today are in the eye of the beholder.

I went to Catholic school and was an average student. Math was actually my worst subject. This was the late seventies and early eighties before advances in pharmacology. I’m pretty sure I had a terrible undiagnosed case of Notgivingashit, but that’s neither here nor there. I do, however, clearly recall something about Math being objective. 2+2=4. Maybe I was sick that day, but it wasn’t “unless 5 is the number you’re shooting for” or “…this month.” Sister Droningon was pretty clear that these were as absolute as the Pope’s infallible fingertip on the pulse of pubescent urban youths.

I’m not really sure what to do to remediate this problem. Obviously, people wouldn’t do Math in an intentionally non-linear fashion. Intentionally reaching the wrong conclusion is unthinkable in a civilized society. Right?

So, it can’t be “will” to follow the most atomic law of the universe, but “skill.”

My suggestion is we create a “Jazzersize-esque” Arithmetic Fitness movement where 2+2=4 for most of the people most of the time except payday, tax day, and St. Patrick’s Day. We could make cool hipster tees from Brooklyn with interesting, discreet use of the Pi symbol. Ryan Seacrest could host a reality show about struggling MIT mathematician wannabes called “Carry the One.”

I’m telling you, this thing has legs. Two of them. Unless there are good reasons for it to have more or less.

Happy Friday the 13th to all of you. Unless it’s Leap Year or you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

2 Comments on “America’s “Math” Problem”

  1. Maybe the folks you cite at the beginning are just rude or impatient as opposed to innumerate.


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