A few years ago, I was helping my daughter with her math homework. She had just started working what back in the day (my oh my am I getting old) my teachers would have called “story problems”, word based problems where the student must glean situational information and subsequently solve for a defined output. For example:
“If Susie has $5 in her pocket, how many apples can she purchase if each costs $1?”
After working through about a half dozen of these homework problems, and feeling a great deal of frustration, my daughter looked at me with her big brown eyes and asked “Dad, why am I wasting my time on this? Will I ever use this in real life?” After getting over the fact she was now calling me “Dad” rather than “Daddy”, I responded with some logical argument about how she would be doing these types of things when she grows up and that learning how to solve these types of problems are the first steps to the more advanced math she would need when she went on to veterinary school. Those responses didn’t sit well with a frustrated fourth-grader, and after an hour or so, quite honestly didn’t sit well with me, even though I knew I was right.
Fast forward three years.
When I watch her budgeting how much she spends on her pets and other discretionary items so she can save and earn money for things she wants down the road, I know those lessons first learned in the fourth grade paid off, even if she doesn’t realize it. While it may have taken some time for the lessons to both sink in and become relevant, the time, effort and frustration were all well worth it because my daughter has become aware of how to balance needs and wants, temper instant versus delayed gratification and math, not even complex but basic math, was at the center of this process.
This experience with my daughter led me to start this BLOG. I believe nearly all (and I stress nearly) of the issues we face today can and should be deconstructed into math problems. Through mathematical modeling and application, we can bring a level of clarity to our decision making process. This does not mean we should become machine-like in our decision making. Quite the contrary. Machines, even ones with advanced levels of artificial intelligence, still work off of logical decision trees. Those trees may evolve with each decision and outcome, but nonetheless decisions are still arrived at through an “if…then…else” paradigm. Rather, by looking at the problems we face through “Math Colored Glasses”, we can combine mathematical truths with the innate empathy and compassion we have deep inside, which hopefully allow us, like my daughter, to discern the correct balance needs and wants, temper short term versus long term gratification, and drive solutions and policies that will benefit all of humanity.