Is math useful? - Poll results
By Murray Bourne, 25 Oct 2007
Recently I ran a poll on Interactive Mathematics and asked users:
The math you are studying now - how useful is it for your future job?
The response from 1000 voters was quite encouraging:
Very useful: 51%
Not useful: 24%
Somewhat useful: 14%
Don't know yet: 11%
Most users of the site are currently studying mathematics at school or college level.
The result is encouraging to me because for years I needed to respond to this kind of question from my students:
What are we doing this stuff for? We're never gonna use it!
And then adults would love to say things like:
You teach math? But it's so useless! I have never used any of that stuff since school.
And even in a recent squareCircleZ post, It's fun to hate math, math educators like Underwood Dudley are throwing up their hands saying:
... algebra and subjects beyond it are, for almost everyone, not practical, nor are there any applications that anyone needs
I was starting to get the impression that the vast majority of students (and people generally) believed that mathematics was just an exercise in passing exams. And that concerns me because I have really enjoyed finding out what all that stuff was for when I started to teach more applied engineering mathematics. A large portion of my working life has been trying to convince students (and adults) about the utility of math.
In this (very unscientific) poll at least, the majority of readers (65%) believe the math they are studying has relevance for their careers.
Considering the 11% of users who responded with "I don't know yet", at least they have not been turned off by the strong societal pressures against math and are keeping an open mind.
See the 9 Comments below.