Illiterate vs. Innumerate: Why is one okay?

mathematics-327488_1280 (1)Last week, a friend shared an article with me from the Globe and Mail. In it, the author stated that she was “never ashamed of [her] limited numerical skills”. Over the years, I have often ranted about the pride people take in saying that they were never good at math. I have a secret to share: while I love math, I wasn’t always good at it.

There. I said it. My secret is out. I have always found the patterns of mathematics comforting. There was also comfort that there was a right answer. While I worked at math problems, my stubbornness would kick in. I knew that if I worked at it, I would get it. When I did master concepts, I felt a certain pride in my accomplishments. My parents can verify my initial cursing over calculus. Most people think you need to be “smart” to do math. I think you just need to be tenacious.

I firmly believe that ALL people can do math. I also acknowledge that not everyone will enjoy math. However, in order to do math, some of us will require more effort than others. Some of us will have to work hard at addition and subtraction. Others will need to start working harder when algebra is introduced. There will be some people that only start working at math when they are doing graduate level research in a new number theory.   That being said, I think that most people, with a little effort and patience, can get to a point of competence with numeracy.

Admittedly, practicing multiplication tables or solving equations may not be as exciting as a team practice, a new video game or a good book. The excuses of “I will just use a calculator,” or “I am not good at math” don’t preclude you from still requiring math in life. Most people will wonder when they will need to find “x” in real life. However, almost all college and university programs require some type of mathematics course. With the basic numeracy skills, the courses become less of a struggle.

Let’s get rid of the notion that it is okay not to be good at math. We work hard to achieve literacy – let’s put the same effort into numeracy and abolish the idea that just because it doesn’t come easily means that you can’t do it.

Bayless, Maureen. (2015, February 12). A grave mathematical error. The Globe and Mail, p L6.

sueSue Guenther
Special Projects Coordinator, Academic Zone Resource Developer and “Math Guru”
A-Z Learning Services, Student Development Centre, Brock University

One response to “Illiterate vs. Innumerate: Why is one okay?

  1. Margaret Groombridge

    Great post Sue! I haven’t taken a math course in over 25 years. (I’d tell you the exact number of years, but that’d be telling too much.) I recently took the GMAT and, wow, the quantitative section is brutal. Although I studied, I definitely needed more time. A year??? It’s not just about knowledge and application. It’s about problem analysis and doing speedy calculations. Definitely humbling. I had to laugh while I read this Globe and Mail post:

    The post conveys the attitude that “it’s okay to be innumerate”; however, the author, Adam Stanley, ends his post saying that he intends to brush up on his high school math . Since my GMAT, I’ve also dedicated myself to improving my math skills. I found a fun free app, QuizUp, and it’s my new addiction. It matches you with others around the world for quick quiz challenges (7 questions), in various skill/knowledge areas including Math. I can easily enter one challenge for a couple of minutes. There’s no real time commitment and I can easily squeeze in a few matches during lunch or wait times. Check it out and look for me in Math: Easy 🙂


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