Embracing Intellectual Mediocrity

It’s as American as apple pie and baseball. Its easy for an evangelical STEM student like myself to drum up some self-righteous zeal on this issue. Those embracing the mediocrity of mathematic literacy often make the argument about the usefulness of math. It’s a compelling argument. Do you really need to know trigonometric functions, the identities of a triangle, the various derivations of calculus or even complex algebra? They mean, when they ask this, does it have real world applications?

Of course, this cannot readily be applied to alternative fields of study without pissing on the prejudices of those making the above argument. They will not be told that various liberal arts pursuits are as equally worthless. How often after high school does someone identify participial phrases in a sentence or encounter the word “opprobrium”? Even if you did encounter that word, just Google it. Then, if you’re like me, immediately forget the meaning of opprobrium until it comes up again 40 pages along in the very same book and you are way too embarassed to look it up and then you just settle on what you think you remember of its meaning.

You just can’t do this type of quick-fix on math issues. Need to know how high that mountain is based on the angle from your eye to it’s peak and the distance to it? Maybe you can find this with Google. It’s much more difficult and, instead of looking up how to compute it yourself, you’ll try to find the mountain’s name and perhaps Google that.

In the end, though, joking about what our nation struggles at won’t make us more competitive in the long run. In fact, shrugging off national failures is kind of embarassing. Especially if you’re supposed to be championing a progressive trend in American exceptionalism on the intellectual front. Finally, I encourage you to read the below supporting article. Perhaps, like me, when you read the closing lines, your face, too, will pull back in a horrified rictus of deep embarassment.



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