Do we need math and science after school?

February 16, 2021 by Joshua
in Education, Nature

You might think with a physics degree I’d feel strongly that we should require students to learn a fair amount of math and science. I love the subjects and consider them as beautiful as any art or music, but until recently didn’t consider them beyond simple calculations important for most people.

The pandemic and environment changed that view. The U.S. response to the pandemic exemplifies what happens when a nation that hasn’t learned math or science for a few generations faces a natural problem.

The mainstream seems to consider math and science important for engineering, which creates innovation and jobs. I have no problem with them, but they miss the value of math and science. I don’t think most people understand their roots.

maxwell equations

Science is the study of nature. It’s not about lab coats, technology, and equations. It’s about understanding how nature works. It teaches finding patterns and predicting future behavior. When you get it, you can tell what will happen—for example, if a virus mutates.

Math is more like the language of nature. It expresses the patterns of science’s results, among other things. It also teaches finding patterns.

Both give you ways to think. The past few months have shocked me at how poorly people could see the patterns or express themselves. Most people seemed grasping at straws, unaware of patterns scientists described to them, going with gut feelings.

It’s hard, when you understand how something works, to imagine seeing the world without that understanding. It reminds me of trying to explain baseball to someone who didn’t grow up playing it. Chess is much easier to explain. Most activities are. In baseball the defense holds the ball and one player faces off against nine. Having grown up playing, I struggle to explain what just makes sense. Many who didn’t grow up playing find walking away easier.

Likewise with the environment, the patterns are clear, but as with people not understanding baseball, people prefer to walk away. Unlike with baseball, if we walk away from changing how we interact with nature, we risk billions of human lives.

Here is what happens when a few people don’t understand math and science. There’s no mystery where pollution comes from. When entire nations don’t we do it to the planet.

Overflowing trash can

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