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# The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless At Math

Saturday, July 7, 2012 - 9:53 AM

This article at The Atlantic describes some interesting ways that many consumers make mistakes in their financial decisions when they're out shopping. #8 "We're pained by transaction costs" is one that probably costs a lot of people. The example it gives is that people make the mistake for signing up for recurring payments for things like gym membership. They would be better off just paying as they go so they're not paying for things that they're not using.

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2. Saturday, July 7, 2012 - 1:34 PM

Too funny. Then, I went to school when we actually had to learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Calculators had not yet been invented.

Ahem (clearing my throat), if you have $100 in an account, and it loses 50% of its value, how much is it worth? Answer: Fifty bucks. Question: and how much does it need to increase in value to get back to $100?

Answer: blank stare.

Albert Einstein (no dummy) is reputed to have said that compound interest is the most potent force in the galaxy.

And the least understood.

Ahem (clearing my throat), if you have $100 in an account, and it loses 50% of its value, how much is it worth? Answer: Fifty bucks. Question: and how much does it need to increase in value to get back to $100?

Answer: blank stare.

Albert Einstein (no dummy) is reputed to have said that compound interest is the most potent force in the galaxy.

And the least understood.

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3. Saturday, July 7, 2012 - 5:44 PM

51hh and Bozo please scoot over as I'd like to join you in the "Good at Math" corner.

Boy, these posts bring back fond memories. I am also of the manual add, subtract, multiply and divide generation. Back in the day, I took three semesters of Physics to satisfy part of the course distribution for my degree. The computations were too long and complex to complete manually within a timed test. Calculators had just been invented, but they were way out of reach for a poor college student. My student loans wouldn't stretch to cover one, but I was a whiz with a slide rule, so problem solved. For the record, I still have that slide rule and remember how to use it. It's now a collectible but I wouldn't part with it for any amount of money.

Fast forward 40 years and I can still compute unit prices, calculate MPG at the pump, keep a running total of my bill at the grocery store, and calculate percentages faster in my head than I can using a calculator. There are subjects which bring on the "deer in the headlights" look for me, but Math isn't one of them. Hence the reason I was unanimously elected to the exalted position of scorekeeper-for-life at our monthly Game Night. I was unable to attend one month and since no one had brought a calculator they decided to skip keeping score LOL and at the end of the night drew straws to determine who got the high- and low-score prizes.

Other countries are leaving us in the dust in terms of mathematic proficiency. It's sad to see children, teens (and even adults) who can't calculate correct change or do simple calculations without resorting to a mechanical aid.

Boy, these posts bring back fond memories. I am also of the manual add, subtract, multiply and divide generation. Back in the day, I took three semesters of Physics to satisfy part of the course distribution for my degree. The computations were too long and complex to complete manually within a timed test. Calculators had just been invented, but they were way out of reach for a poor college student. My student loans wouldn't stretch to cover one, but I was a whiz with a slide rule, so problem solved. For the record, I still have that slide rule and remember how to use it. It's now a collectible but I wouldn't part with it for any amount of money.

Fast forward 40 years and I can still compute unit prices, calculate MPG at the pump, keep a running total of my bill at the grocery store, and calculate percentages faster in my head than I can using a calculator. There are subjects which bring on the "deer in the headlights" look for me, but Math isn't one of them. Hence the reason I was unanimously elected to the exalted position of scorekeeper-for-life at our monthly Game Night. I was unable to attend one month and since no one had brought a calculator they decided to skip keeping score LOL and at the end of the night drew straws to determine who got the high- and low-score prizes.

Other countries are leaving us in the dust in terms of mathematic proficiency. It's sad to see children, teens (and even adults) who can't calculate correct change or do simple calculations without resorting to a mechanical aid.

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5. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 12:22 AM

No slide-rule-on-a-belt for me, but might as well confess to owning not one, but 2 slide rules (the traditional linear one, which I preferred, and a compact circular model which was a HS graduation gift from my favorite Chemistry teacher). OMG, just realized I was a nerd in my younger days :)

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6. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 11:31 AM

I also was a straight A student. I also thought I was still pretty intelligent until I audited a college class. Try it. Your mind might be changed. What was and what is has changed so much more than I could have imagined.

I think you may trying to compare yourself to the least among us.

I think you may trying to compare yourself to the least among us.

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7. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 5:13 PM

Yes, I, too, am of the generation where we actually had to learn how to compute with our "brains" instead of a calculator. I don't need a machine to tell me what I should be paying etc. This post reminds me of the time when I was in line at a store and just about to pay and their electricity went off. The saleslady said she could not figure out how much I owed because her calculator was also off. I took a piece of paper listed everything, totaled it up with tax and told her we "old" people still know how to do things without machines and I needed to pay her and get out of there. She took my money and seemed amazed to see this brilliant trick I performed. Actually added up a bill without mechanical means! If the enemy ever finds a way to turn off our electricity, they can capture us without firing a shot!

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8. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 6:14 PM

Some of us can even add/subtract things like lists, or calculate percentages (tips, anyone?), mentally without even having to use pen and paper. Why is it that we are spending more than ever on public education, and ending up with high school graduates who cannot even master the three Rs? Exactly what is being taught in the schools today, if not reading, math, science, etc.? Not to mention the shocking ignorance when it comes to history and geography. I agree with the above that we are becoming too dependent on machines, but where is the accountability of the public schools here? By the way, my mom was a whiz with an abacus!

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9. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 7:57 PM

We were trained (in Asia) to perform complicated caculations in our brain at our youth, among other rigorous/even torturous exercises. These trainings helped us to establish a solid mathematical (and eventually an engineering) mind/foundation. Without such a process, one would lose a lot of "intuition" that is essential for more advanced study.

Maybe that is the reason why the basic (e.g., under-graduate and below) U.S. education lags in Math. and Physics, when compared to education in Asia.

On the other hand, the attributes of U.S. education lie in the freedom and flexibility in higher learning and research. That is why the Asia education can never catch up with U.S. in advanced study and top-notch research. That is also why thousands of foreign students come to U.S. annually for their advanced study, training, and professional career.

I do hope that U.S. will maintain such un-parallel excellence in research and advanced learnings.

Just my own perspective without retribution:-)

And, yes, Rosie, it took me a whole day to figure out some Math problem they give to a junior-high. I don't believe that anyone here is "showing off" her/his talent, other than making a valid point.

Maybe that is the reason why the basic (e.g., under-graduate and below) U.S. education lags in Math. and Physics, when compared to education in Asia.

On the other hand, the attributes of U.S. education lie in the freedom and flexibility in higher learning and research. That is why the Asia education can never catch up with U.S. in advanced study and top-notch research. That is also why thousands of foreign students come to U.S. annually for their advanced study, training, and professional career.

I do hope that U.S. will maintain such un-parallel excellence in research and advanced learnings.

Just my own perspective without retribution:-)

And, yes, Rosie, it took me a whole day to figure out some Math problem they give to a junior-high. I don't believe that anyone here is "showing off" her/his talent, other than making a valid point.

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10. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 8:01 PM

Rosie, I have no doubt that you were a straight A student. Ken’s readers are quite intelligent and have solid knowledge in a number of areas, acquired either through formal education or on the job experience. We are, however, all different, with varying interests and abilities.

When I asked to join 51hh and Bozo in the “good at Math” corner, it wasn’t in comparison to anyone. If one can only assess their “good at” or “not so good at” in comparison to others, that’s asking to be disappointed every time. Someone will always be better at something than you, just as you will always be better at something than someone else. In the end what matters most to me is determining my personal “good at” or “not so good at” in relation to my own potential and capabilities. If 40 years after college and 39 years after I stopped teaching HS Math or working in that field I can still tutor a friend’s college sophomore grandson on calculus, probability and statistics and his younger brother on geometry and trigonometry I believe that’s the “good at Math” end of the spectrum. While I have already warned the older child that once he gets to Fourier analysis and topology he will be on his own as once was enough for me, IMO that doesn’t move my needle to the “bad at Math” end.

On the other hand, a cashier who must depend on a register to determine how much change is due the customer doesn't fall into the "bad at Math" category. but in the "our education system has failed shamefully" category.

There are important and challenging real-world problems waiting to be solved which depend on quantitative reasoning and development of complex mathematical models. US teens are lagging their global peers in Math, people are influenced/manipulated by their emotions in daily activities such as shopping for best deals, and unfortunately some of our citizens can’t make change without machines. Our education system, our values and our reward system are in desperate need of an overhaul.

When I asked to join 51hh and Bozo in the “good at Math” corner, it wasn’t in comparison to anyone. If one can only assess their “good at” or “not so good at” in comparison to others, that’s asking to be disappointed every time. Someone will always be better at something than you, just as you will always be better at something than someone else. In the end what matters most to me is determining my personal “good at” or “not so good at” in relation to my own potential and capabilities. If 40 years after college and 39 years after I stopped teaching HS Math or working in that field I can still tutor a friend’s college sophomore grandson on calculus, probability and statistics and his younger brother on geometry and trigonometry I believe that’s the “good at Math” end of the spectrum. While I have already warned the older child that once he gets to Fourier analysis and topology he will be on his own as once was enough for me, IMO that doesn’t move my needle to the “bad at Math” end.

On the other hand, a cashier who must depend on a register to determine how much change is due the customer doesn't fall into the "bad at Math" category. but in the "our education system has failed shamefully" category.

There are important and challenging real-world problems waiting to be solved which depend on quantitative reasoning and development of complex mathematical models. US teens are lagging their global peers in Math, people are influenced/manipulated by their emotions in daily activities such as shopping for best deals, and unfortunately some of our citizens can’t make change without machines. Our education system, our values and our reward system are in desperate need of an overhaul.

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11. Sunday, July 8, 2012 - 8:48 PM

Wil, I don't want to paint all schools with the same brush, but suspect that many are simply teaching to the tests, instead of concentrating on teaching the subject, because that is all they can do, given the pressure to meet performance standards which drive staffing, salary and bonuses. The public education system of 201x's is unfortunately vastly different than that of the 50's and 60's with which we are familiar.

Also, I believe for many reasons parents are not as involved with their child's education on many fronts - for example, making sure homework is complete, helping to reinforce learning, helping to develop disciplined study habits, etc. Many of these responsibilities have been abdicated to teachers, and to make matters worse, teachers know they cannot count on parents' support in tough situations. As to what we are teaching in schools today, I think the focus is on self-esteem and making kids feel good about themselves. Personally I think we are missing the chance to give kids the satisfaction that comes from knowing they have worked hard and learned or accomplished something important and worthwhile.

And finally, there is also the matter of what little value we seem to give education today. Media coverage is all about people who are famous for being - well - infamous, as well as athletic achievement. I enjoy sports and realize everyone is not cut out to be a scholar. But what does it say when more people turn out to cheer a poorly-performing football team on Friday nights than a local Math team participating in a state competition?

Also, I believe for many reasons parents are not as involved with their child's education on many fronts - for example, making sure homework is complete, helping to reinforce learning, helping to develop disciplined study habits, etc. Many of these responsibilities have been abdicated to teachers, and to make matters worse, teachers know they cannot count on parents' support in tough situations. As to what we are teaching in schools today, I think the focus is on self-esteem and making kids feel good about themselves. Personally I think we are missing the chance to give kids the satisfaction that comes from knowing they have worked hard and learned or accomplished something important and worthwhile.

And finally, there is also the matter of what little value we seem to give education today. Media coverage is all about people who are famous for being - well - infamous, as well as athletic achievement. I enjoy sports and realize everyone is not cut out to be a scholar. But what does it say when more people turn out to cheer a poorly-performing football team on Friday nights than a local Math team participating in a state competition?

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13. Monday, July 9, 2012 - 12:45 PM

Indeed ... or they burn out as a result of the year-after-year increase in demands with year-after-year diminishing support. You are absolutely right that education is the fertilizer of human capital but unfortunately that concept is not reflected in public policy.

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