Rant and Rave

Math professors = anal-retentive whiners and crybabies?

Bob Perlman sent the following letter

I want to applaud your spirited attack on mandatory math education. It's about time someone told the truth about the insidious attempt to make people in this country math-literate.

I received an engineering degree from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, which is just south of the Arctic Circle. (The school motto is, "No, tuition does *not* include heat." It sounds better in Latin.) Although you went to a Boston trade school, I'm sure your experience was similar to mine. Professors would lecture endlessly on the need to base engineering and science on sound mathematical principles. We were told that if we weren't mathematically rigorous, bridges would fall, buildings would collapse and critical electrical systems would fail. I'm sure you thought then exactly as I did: what a bunch of anal-retentive whiners and crybabies! Sure, bridges have fallen and buildings have collapsed, but not that many and not near me. And, yes, the Y2K problem may cause electrical systems to fail due to insufficient mathematical foresight; depending on who you believe, this will create either a major catastrophe or a minor inconvenience. But in late-20th-century America, major catastrophe and minor inconvenience are pretty much the same thing, so who cares?

As for math in private life, I've had only one occasion to use it. Recently I had the house recarpeted, and thanks to a detailed geometric analysis, I was able to determine that I was being overcharged by several million dollars. Some may think that this is adequate justification for 15 years of math, but not me.

Yours truly,

Bob Perlman

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