Math is Beautiful

Mark H. Gromko sent the following letter

When the loudmouth brother (excuse me for making fine distinctions) started the January 2 show with a rant, I smiled to myself because I enjoy it when he alienates the rest of the listeners. However, the educational nihilism rant about geometry and mathematics struck a raw nerve. Allow me to walk you through a moment's deeper reflection, which I suspect will leave you wondering why you didn't think of this yourself.

Why would we not extend your argument to other subject areas? The arts are easy game. Most people have not painted since their grade-school days. Of what value, then, is visual art education?

Literature too should fall under the knife of your reasoning. Surely we do not need to read fine writing. Enough reading ability, I'll grant, is necessary for filling out income tax returns and reading road signs. The distinction is clear: utilitarian reading, yes; literature, no. And writing? Good heavens, who does that on a daily basis? No daily application: off with its head! All the fine arts, then, disposed of along with math.

If your argument applies so easily to all of education, it suggests something wrong with your argument. First, your argument fails to recognize that math is beautiful. Geometry is among the most elegant and accessible of the branches of math. In the same way that we build paths in our natural parks to waterfalls and scenic vistas, so too should we provide the opportunity for everyone to visit and be awed by the crystal beauty of Euclid.

Second, math is useful. You know this, Clack. Have a bad day? If I have one regret about my own education, it is that I didn't take more math. Why? Math is the language of the sciences. It is the vehicle that allows you access to much of what is truly interesting about the natural world. By your own brutal criterion of applicability, mathematics passes: engineers and economists, to name two obvious examples, use mathematics on a daily basis.

I suspect, Clack, that you threw out your vacuous argument knowing that obvious responses would be supplied by many of your listeners. I am happy to be among them.


Mark H. Gromko
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Bowling Green State University

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