Why Math Education Matters

Suppose a belt tightly stretched about the equator of the earth just fits. How long a piece should be inserted so that the belt could encircle the earth at a distance of 1m away at all points?

The answer to this frequently posed math problem is 6.28 m. It may seem strange that the answer is so small, compared with Earths circumference, but the math behind the solution is straightforward. Let the radius of Earth be r meters. Then the belt that fits the equator of the earth will be 2r meters. To encircle the earth at a consistent distance of 1m away, the belt will have to be 2(r+1) m. The difference between 2(r+1) m and 2r m is 2 m or 6.28 m.

When I decided not to eat non-cage-free chickens, some people told me that my decision would not have a noticeable effect upon the supply of non-cage-free chickens. I have a feeling that these people are among those who, in the above problem, would be likely to imagine that a piece much longer than 6.28m would need to be inserted into the belt.

I imagine that these people, by the same token, are also likely to think erroneously that power plants do not need to increase their production to counteract the fact that they themselves waste energy, since the amount of energy that they consume is negligible compared to the amount of surplus energy the government prepares to prevent blackouts.

Math education matters, because the general public should not make mistakes in cases such as these. When people have the knowledge and skills necessary to understand critical issues from a mathematical point of view, they will be able to make better informed decisions about their social, economic, and technological behaviors and practices.