Why is it now socially accceptable to incorrectly use the phrase "beg the question"?

Like the person quoted above, I'll be the first to admit that my math skills are worse than when I was in the seventh grade. That's probably why I ended up as a psychologist rather than a mathematician. However, I don't think being willing to admit you are bad at math is limited to lawyers and psychologists, it's pretty much everyone. In fact, I've noticed that it's quite socially acceptable to say that I'm not good at math. On the other hand, I would never admit that I was bad at reading because, well, that would just make me look really stupid.

Which clearly raises the question: Why is it socially acceptable to say that you're bad at math but not socially acceptable to say you're bad at reading?

I've emphasized the importance of both math literacy and math excellence in my article *Is This How To Fix Our Math Education?** *However, I've come to realize that we probably need a critical mass of the American population to be math literate precisely so that America as a whole will really begin to support math excellence.

It is socially acceptable to be bad at math in our country. Perhaps it wasn't always this way. And perhaps it doesn't have to be this way. I think that the first step we need to take as a society is to make it socially unacceptable to be bad at math just like it's socially unacceptable to be bad at reading.

When we don't find it funny, maybe then it means as a society we've started to value the importance of being math literate.

And in case you were wondering, the initial quote was from the first lady of the United States of America when she was giving a speech at the National Science Foundation stressing the importance of math and science education for girls.

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

*You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or G+. **For more of Finding the Next Einstein: Why Smart is Relative go here.*

### I think your comment supports my point

Hi Donna. First of all, thanks for fixing my grammar. I have changed my mistake of using "beg the question" and I appreciate you helping! However, the fact that you have made this comment in a way shows that it is socially unacceptable to not be able to read or to have proper grammar, which actually supports a point in my article. I have noticed that when I used the phrase "beg the question" incorrectly in another article I also had the grammar police come out and make your point. So maybe in addition to the "grammar police" we need the "math police" too! So I think it's not socially acceptable at all to make grammatical mistakes! All the best, Jon.

### Completely agree; Donna just

Completely agree; Donna just supported your point. People nitpick on grammar (that example is so nitpicky; the 'begs the question' issue is virtually untaught in any school, and I've only encountered a few people who know the difference or take issue with it, even after attending an Ivy.)

I'm a grammar stickler but was raised by 2 math professors, who would chastise me for saying "oh" while repeating a phone number, rather than 'zero'. Still, outside the home, I learned it was acceptable or even endearing or friendly to claim you were bad at math. I think our culture has reached a level of anti-intellectualism that we haven't seen in a long time.

For girls especially, it is considered 'uncool' to show talent or interest in math. I think it might change with the economy; quantitative jobs are among the only ones that are easy to find these days. People are starting to realize that China and other countries will literally own us if we do not shape up mentally.

### Probably for the same reason

Probably for the same reason you find it acceptable to split infinitives.

### here's why

Here's why:

Adults know that when you hit adulthood, all the math you'll ever really need is addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and percentages. It's nice to be able to read a graph, too.

Other than that? All that math you learn or try to learn in high school and college is unnecessary except for those seeking advanced degrees.

Reading and writing, though, remain crucial all through life.

I've often thought that if schools spent as much time teaching kids foreign languages as they do teaching them algebra, trig, and pre-calc, we'd have a populace better equipped for 21st century life.

### You're using the symptoms to

You're using the symptoms to explain the cause. Some of the most commonly vacant and best-paid jobs these days are quantitative (programming, engineering, analytics). Adults only need those basic skills BECAUSE most don't apply for the multitude of nice, cushy jobs that require something more than 6th grade math.

Your attitude and arrogance are the very problem!

### Why go ad hominem?

Liss, you have a good point to make. But why make an ad hominem attack on someone you don't even know, and who you are acquainted to through just a few lines? Civil discourse, please.

### False

This is false. You don't use only simple math in your life. No, no, no.

You need the Pitagoras Theorem if you want to gather material to make a ramp.

You need geometry if you want to fill a volume with the right amount.

A lot of professionals NEED to learn how to program, even if they are not on the IT area (and programming is applied math, doesn't matter what you think).

Formal logic is math (and everybody needs it. Always).

EVEN if math wasn't all "that important" (and it is), I don't see anyone complaining that he have to learn art in school. Come'on, when did you make a poem recently?

### You "need" more, just not in the way it's taught

It seems you don't need any more. If those "other" classes are taught properly, what you learn is not how to find the slope of the tangent line. Instead you should learn how to apply logical thinking to a problem that seems un-doable.

And learning foreign languages utilize the same logical structure as math, so really they could be exchanged and, indeed, produced a well equipped populace.

### Bare Minimum?

If you teach only the bare minimum to get by that is what you will get, a people capable of only the bare minimum.

I've never graphed a sentence since grade school but having done so has helped me understand the parts of language that I need to know to learn foreign languages.

I don't use calculus directly anymore but I understand the idea of peaks, minimums, and boundary conditions that are necessary for performance tuning in software engineering and, in my case, applying it to retail planning.

### if you can't read, you can't

if you can't read, you can't do anything (including read the word problams in math class). math skills are NOT necessary for everyday life. reading skills ARE required for everyday life. math problems don't take you away to another place, reading can.

i don't care if the US is good at math or science, i can only worry about my own family. i have 3 kids, one is a natural at math but hates it. another is not a natural, but she loves it. i insist that they do their best and leave it at that.

to me, there are few things more boring than a math problem. but i do not share that with my children. they need to find their own way in the world, it doesn't matter what i like when they are searchong for a career. and frankly, its not their problem to take on the issues of the country. but a clue might be found in what society values. turn on your tv. there are reality shows where people compete or live in front of the camera for nearly everything, baking, singing, drinking, gambling, getting married. math is not fun, interesting, or, apparently, lucrative.

### Math is not fun or

Math is not fun or interesting to YOU (and frankly you don't sound like you are either one of those) but it is certainly lucrative. You sound small-minded and/or defensive.

When your kids are 'searchong' for a career, they will have more opportunities for themselves, not for fixing the country's problems. What a silly rationalization!

### Society don't like math

But reaps the benefits.

The thing about math is, its use is "hidden." Think about the design of a skyscraper. Designing one needs thousand and thousands of calculations... mostly performed by computers... of various aspects of the physics. Calculus, trigonometry, geometry, probability, etc. has been used to design them and make them safe.

There are other benefits from math. Weather forecasting, Computer gaming, Computer Graphics, Soil testing, even the browser you use calculates thousands of equations per seconds to display this web page.

If you ask me, math is important in the most lucrative endeavors.

But the thing is, math's impact could be felt but math itself is hidden. We see the results (a skyscraper, a weather forecast, a new computer game, various development in CG that enable creation of Avatar movie, finding oil underground, tracking your car with GPS) but we don't see the workings (which includes thousands and thousands of calculations of complex math).

So please don't berate math or science for they had been used to forged almost everything we made. If no one had been good at math (and science), we would not have reached the moon, or invented computer, or ride a car.

### Math Skills

You write "math skills are NOT necessary for everyday life" - but you can say that because you do them so effortlessly that you can't even see that they are there.

You set your alarm to wake up on time - using subtraction and algebra.

You have a job and manage to pay your house note with a little left over for fun - again, arithmetic and some algebra.

You tile your floors, paint your walls and even move furniture - all geometry and even a little calculus.

All of this done without even a second thought.

We do math - we can't NOT do it.

It's just we don't want to say we do it. And indeed many of us can't even SEE that we do it.

### Small minded?

"i don't care if the US is good at math or science, i can only worry about my own family."

I think we've found part of the problem. If you care about your family you'd look beyond your little world.

You use a lot of keywords I see come up over and over with people who say they can't do math, "boring" and "natural". By constantly perpetuating the belief that math (unlike reading) is some magic skill that you are either born with or not you create the false assumption that it is a skill that can't be learned. Saying it is boring also indicates that the problem may not be a matter of intelligence but attitude and teaching style. If you think something is boring then you've given up before you've even really tried.

### Bad teachers

I suspect that the reason is that most people had bad math teachers in school and thus found math either incomprehensible or terribly boring or both. I had one good math teacher in high school, it was for freshman algebra. I did well and actually learned something. I took AP math the remaining three years and found it dreadfully boring. For two years I had a teacher who clearly knew the subject matter (geometry and trig) but he was mean, sarcastic, and unpleasant in almost every way. Senior year calculus was with a nice man who knew the subject but didn't do a very good job conveying it to the class.

If there had been a Khan Academy then I might have actually chosen a college major involving science. I hated math so much after high school that I did not take a single math course in college (I didn't have to because I had AP credits for calculus.)

I have started my four year old daughter on the Khan Academy arithmetic videos and they are very well done -- I plan to continue with the entire math series. Put Khan Academy in the classrooms with teachers for backup, extra help, etc. and we may see some improvement.

### Re: Math and Reading

I will admit that math to me was a very complicated subject, but reading was enjoyable. As much as I use it, I still have to admit that I laugh and smile at being bad at math and recall struggling to understand such esoteric topics as Fourier Series. In fact, I did not understand them until I saw this video from ViHart:

http://youtu.be/i_0DXxNeaQ0

Hence I learned that every curve and every sound is the summation of infinitely many waves of infinitely many frequencies; which is what a Fourier Series is.

I believe it is that struggle with Math that so many of us have that makes us laugh when we realize at some point we simply cannot readily understand what is being put before us. That and the fact that as ubiquitous as reading is compared to math, it is practically expected today.

I bring to mind a speech by the former NASA administrator, Mike Griffin: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=23775

In it, he quotes Baron Charles Percy (C. P.) Snow on his observations on the breakdown in communication between the humanities and the sciences.

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the, Second Law of Thermodynamics, the law of entropy. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?"

Perhaps this is an extension of why it is socially acceptable to be math illiterate? What do you react more to? 'I never read Shakespeare' or 'I never heard of the Pythagorean theorem'?

### It's also socially

It's also socially unacceptable to compare oneself favorably to others or to people in general. To admit weakness or inability usually wins approval as representing humility, courageous vulnerability, or honesty. Nobody want to hear about how talented you are. Since a minority of people are good at math, a majority will be comforted to hear a successful person also has that problem.

### Ask a woman how much she weighs

Interesting, Nathan!

So perhaps convincing people that they already do math (and are very good at it), would change this.

Think people aren't very good at math? Ask a woman how much she weighs. That shocked look means she just did the arithmetic (my weight - what I'm supposed to weigh) REALLY FAST and determined it was a much larger number than what she's comfortable saying out loud.

Amazingly good at math, we women!

### By definition, only a

By definition, only a minority are good at anything. That's what it means to be good at something. Dur.

### Make Math Equally Valuable to the Learner

From the moment I learned to read it opened doors for me, and has continued to be one of the most valuable skills I have in life.

Math was like that for a while... until high school when I started learning how to solve equations I'd never wanted to solve and couldn't imagine why I would.

So I would say we need to demonstrate to students (and ourselves) how math is just a valuable to us as reading. If we can't... then it isn't as valuable, and therefore people won't be as "good" at it. But I think we can demonstrate the value of math. Having kids step away from multiple choice tests and word problems from text books and instead lean towards problem solving activities for real-life math situations would be a great step in the right direction.

### Because boys are better at

Because boys are better at math than girls, and girls are better in English classes than boys.

It's that simple.

### Don't demand something that high

We actually aren't that literate in reading either. Try answering this questions about literature:

-Who is Anne's best friend from Anne Of Green Gables?

-What is White Fang's last master in the book White Fang?

-Who is the main protagonist in the book Around the World in 80 Days?

-What kind of animals are the main protagonist in the book Wind In The Willows?

-Why did Montresor kills Fortunato in The Cask Of Amontillado?

How well did you fare?

The point is, we don't really involve ourselves to reading or math. We heard about great works of literature and they are even introduced at school, but we don't really take them to heart. We heard about those fancy sounding math stuff and is even introduced to us at school and like reading we don't put much value to them. We, except for a few 'insiders,' all have been involved with them shallowly.

### I wonder if it has to do with

I wonder if it has to do with the negative connotations associated with being exceptional at math (i.e. being a nerd, or some other form of social awkwardness)? Maybe it just seems to be self-destructive, as far as social status and how other see you, to say that you're proficient in math. Obviously, there's always the stereotypical nerdy "bookworm" who's always buried in books (think Matilda) -- but when people say they're bad at math, they're not usually talking about things like having the right amount of singles when they're paying for something at the register. It's about stuff like algebra or trig that really has no everyday usefulness outside nerds entrenched in the world of numerical academia 8-)

Whereas reading does have a day-to-day meaningfulness that, without this ability, would label someone illiterate. And pretty much everyone today of normal or above IQ, can read. In other words, we need to read in everyday life, but solving quadratics? not so much.... I think it's all about the implications of the degree to which you have (or lack) each ability. ;)

### Saying that math is for nerds

Saying that math is for nerds doesn't make it not useful. Math is actually very useful. I think the reason why people don't think math is important is because they don't see it being used, they only see the result of the math. Many important jobs require high levels of math knowledge, (All the engineering fields, programming, architecture, Physics, etc.) I think that because most jobs that require high levels of math are very difficult jobs (requires high level of academics) most people won't be in those fields so they think that it's not necessary.

### Not just US - in the UK being good at Maths is not socially acceptable

I wonder how widespread worldwide is the acceptability of being poor at Maths?

Personally, I love it. The further I go with Maths the more beautiful it becomes. In that I do not think there is much difference with the appreciation of great literature - the basics give you a way in to an enhanced understanding of the next level.

And maths is important and useful. If you get interest or are charged it on a loan you need to understand geometric progressions, to know what you are getting into or the best deal. Allied with physics you can better understand the effects of increases of speed when you drive the car you bought with a loan. With statistics you can better understand the mortality figures from various hospitals which you made need after you have crashed your car. These are all areas where maths can have an effect on your quality of life.

Sure you can get by without them - but you will be better off if you do understand.

### It's socially unacceptable to be good at math.

That's why people deny being good at it.

### Gifted Education

Why is it socially acceptable for Moms to say "I never was good at math, that's why I tell the kids to ask Dad?" As a teacher of elementary gifted students, I realize how important it is that the girls in my advanced math classes feel competent and capable in math. Having their moms state the opposite undermines their daughters' confidence and gives them an out they do not need. Also, I still can't believe there wasn't a backlash regarding the recent Sylvan Learning Center commercial. Male child asks his mom for help on math homework. Mom makes face showing terror and runs out of the house to the tutoring center where a capable person can help her son. Unbelievable that a professional tutoring center would perpetuate such gender bias and misconceptions.

### Error

I'm a little confused about the subheading. It says "Why is it socially unacceptable to be bad at reading?" And one of the links also says "reading" as well when I think it means math. Just thought I'd point that out. Cheers!

### I don't think it's an error

I read it as the author's belief that it's okay to say you're bad at math but not okay to say you can't read.

We also say that all kids have to learn to read and write, but only some kids are able to learn math.

### Error

I'm a little confused about the subheading. It says "Why is it socially unacceptable to be bad at reading?" And one of the links also says "reading" as well when I think it means math. Just thought I'd point that out. Cheers!

### Error

I'm a little confused about the subheading. It says "Why is it socially unacceptable to be bad at reading?" And one of the links also says "reading" as well when I think it means math. Just thought I'd point that out. Cheers!

### Word problems are what quantitative reasoning is about

I find it interesting that people always rail against 'word problems' when they talk about why they don't like math.

Word problems are real life applications of how to use quantitative information. Who has the highest score? How can I figure out how much paint to buy? How long will it take to get somewhere or to meet someone? How much money will I make and how long will it take to earn it?

Word problems are hard because they require reasoning and using quantitative skills, not just memorizing a formula. When I teach statistics (every single semester) students worry about the 'math' part of the class (which they always do great on) and have trouble on the tests because they can't READ.

In other words, they can't read a description of a problem and understand the main points and the main actors. Then they can't take that information and, using what they just read, accurately describe the relationships between them.

Take for example, a problem describing psych profs trying to decide whether weekly quizzes help students do better on tests. They also want to know whether it helps first year students more than upperclassman. What's being predicted? What is it being predicted by? How could you tell whether quizzes help?

If I ask that as a math question (calculate an ANOVA predicting test scores from quiz condition and year) every student can do it. They can perform an algorithm. They can certainly get a computer to do it. But if I start with the real question, they can't figure out what is predicted by what and which statistics to use. Or even how to graph it. Why? Reading skills and analytic thinking.

Those things are hard to do. Choosing which statistic to use is hard. Figuring out what your variables are is hard. Designing an experiment is hard. Running statistics? Once you've decided all that and gathered your information, that's what computers are for. I can do it by pushing four buttons.

That's why quantitative reasoning is important to teach. So we can solve 'word problems'.

And yes, we use those skills all the time.

I am spending today revising a proposal to education in strengthen quantitative reasoning at my institution in light of the arguments made by faculty in the humanities. What is both ironic and heartening about their arguments was that they attacked the proposal based on the numbers we provided to support our arguments.

Those humanities people had GREAT quantitative reasoning skills.

### You sound like my advanced

You sound like my advanced stats professor... Haha. The course is pretty much entirely conceptual; not sure whether that makes it more or less difficult than advanced stats courses that focus on memorizing formulas and knowing how to use calculators/computer programs...

Anyway, math was always one of my strengths academically (I am the same person who made that original post, and failed to put a name, by the way, lol), I don't personally hold the opinion that "math is for nerds." Or that word problems are less important/applicable than other formats of math problems; but I do feel that (primarily pre-college years) I was - even if not consciously or explicitly so - kind of seen as one of "the smart ones" just because of my academic performance in math courses....especially in high school. And from that people would always assume I must be some sort of genius...I used to say genius is relative and that's an illusion created by the amount of people who just suck at math ;) but I never considered really having a career in engineering or as a mathematician, because my stronger interests lie elsewhere (even though I tended to have higher math grades than any other subject...) and in a way I've gotten the impression that people stereotype you (perhaps just subconsciously?) Kind of like "oh wow you always get A's in math, you must be a total nerd!" Classmates in math in high school more than any other subject, the majority of the time didn't seem interested in having conversations with me about anything other than asking me to help them....it was kind of annoying really, felt like I was being used in a way because I guess being above average in math makes one a brainiac or something.... Lol.

Oddly enough I hated stats in high school, at least the way it was taught, it was probably the most boring part of jr high/HS math, other than geometric proofs and probability. In college something got me more interested in statistics and visually being able to show numbers actually having some sort of life to them, lol, I guess that is a good thing if I want to go into academia/research.

All of that said, maybe it's an issue of appearing to have no relevance or real-life application? It seems that most skills attained from math through schooling, are done so indirectly -- like your explanation of quantitative reasoning. Teachers I'm sure in K-12 courses can just say for years "this will help you with quantitative reasoning" (perhaps w/ some paraphrasing...) but it's really difficult to see any real benefit; when an opportunity to utilize those skills arise in reality, arguably, most people are not even aware they are doing so.

Maybe that's what I ended up liking about statistics -- the fact you can actually take something in real life and play with numbers.

### Its interesting that the

Its interesting that the author said we would seem stupid if we said didn't no how to read, but society excepts not knowing how to do math. However, the author states that the only to fix what society thinks, is to break the mentality to be terrible at anything.

### Defense Mechanism

I joke about being bad at math all the time. I'm more into literature, humanities, etc. In high school, I breezed through AP English but struggled through Algebra II and nearly flunked Physics. Most of my family is good at math: my grandmother was a bookkeeper back in the 1960s-70s, my mother works in payroll, and my older sister works in medical billing/coding. My struggle with science started in 3rd grade, math in 4th grade; by middle school, I began joking that I missed the math gene. It was really a defense mechanism for why the rest of my family seemed to get it except me.

I don't see it as socially acceptable. Maybe at one point I did, but I'm 27 and I graduated college right before the economy crashed and the only decent jobs to be had were in math/science fields. Also, for a long time, I wanted to be an interior designer. I had the chance to take that class as an elective my senior year and I loved it, but I realized my math skills weren't strong enough to pursue it as a career. My sister's older son is a math whiz and I encourage it as much as I can. He's 11 and can't believe it when I tell him that he's better at math than me, and that it's a GOOD thing. I put him in a video game creator camp this summer that will teach him coding, so he'll have more and better options than me.

### Bad at maths

I don't see why it shouldn't be socially acceptable to be bad at maths.

I am one of the many who "can't do maths". By this I mean that, while I could and still can cope with basic arithmetic, anything past the primary school stage is a closed book to me, and always has been.

At school, this was a serious problem. I was bad at maths which caused me to fail exams. As for algebra, it was worse. I learnt certain procedures by heart to try and get past "square one" but never understood what I was doing. A little like a trained rat in a laboratory. I was always at the bottom of my class.

In adulthood, I bought books with titles such as "Maths can be fun" etc, thinking that if I approached the subject anew, with a genuine desire to overcome my problem, I might be able to understand maths at last. But when reading those books, after a few pages I invariably hit a brick wall : the authors were assuming that their reasoning was clear and understandable, but I was lost. Eventually I stopped trying.

I am, however, puzzled. I don't think there's anything wrong with me, but I can't help feeling that I ( like quite a few other people ) am just "wired" differently, and while I may be good at other things, we just can't "do" maths. .

It's frustrating and hard for us : a closed world we can't enter. But socially unacceptable ?

### Bad at maths,

I don't see why it shouldn't be socially acceptable to be bad at maths.

I am one of the many who "can't do maths". By this I mean that, while I could and still can cope with basic arithmetic, anything past the primary school stage is a closed book to me, and always has been.

At school, this was a serious problem. I was bad at maths which caused me to fail exams. As for algebra, it was worse. I learnt certain procedures by heart to try and get past "square one" but never understood what I was doing. A little like a trained rat in a laboratory. I was always at the bottom of my class.

In adulthood, I bought books with titles such as "Maths can be fun" etc, thinking that if I approached the subject anew, with a genuine desire to overcome my problem, I might be able to understand maths at last. But when reading those books, after a few pages I invariably hit a brick wall : the authors were assuming that their reasoning was clear and understandable, but I was lost. Eventually I stopped trying.

I am, however, puzzled. I don't think there's anything wrong with me, but I can't help feeling that I ( like quite a few other people ) am just "wired" differently, and while I may be good at other things, we just can't "do" maths. .

It's frustrating and hard for us : a closed world we can't enter. But socially unacceptable ?