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As America bemoans its woeful performance in math, we should remind ourselves why we want our kids to do well in math in the first place. But innovation is just part of the equation. If kids grow up to be good at math, they’ll raise kids who are good at math — because parents are children’s first teachers. When parents love math and feel comfortable with it, and feel brave enough to help a child with math homework, that attitude is contagious.
Those parents were once kids themselves, so let’s start the cycle on the right foot, for the good of our kids and for society. Teachers need to step up their game. Far more kids will learn math and enjoy it if they have great teachers. And yet we continue to accept low math standards for elementary school teachers. Changing the world takes more than just feeling good.
Do we know whether our efforts to save really make a difference? How much plastic do we spare by buying bottled water with slightly smaller caps? When we buy cloth diapers, do we really know whether we’re helping the environment, or whether in fact all that hot water and electricity to wash them cancels out the benefits? We should make sure we are doing good vs. This holds just as true for big-ticket items, like the compounding interest on debt. Whether you become a painter, a neurosurgeon or a nail-salon attendant, you will have to manage your finances, and you will survive better if you are willing to fall forward and grasp the numbers behind debt. The 2008 mortgage crisis might have been far less ugly if everyone had had that comfort level.
Not all deals are created equal. When people offer you a deal, that deal is probably better for them than for you, or they wouldn’t offer it. Math shines a bright light on this. When you’re pitched a warranty that costs one tenth as much as the product, ask yourself: has one out of every ten things in your house broken before it should have? You’re not a true grown-up until you know how to tip. It’s incredible how many intelligent, educated adults are afraid to calculate the tip at a restaurant. 67 percent for someone less helpful.
By the way, women in particular tend to be guilty of ducking the tip task: in my own informal study, it’s running at about 87 percent. Simple math can help you make healthier choices. A Starbucks Frappuccino has around 430 calories. It takes four and a half hours of walking to burn that off — about half a workday. Those who run the numbers behind obesity might just skip the coffee. Same thing with sugar and the diabetes scourge: we’re supposed to eat a limited amount of processed sugar a day, about 2 desserts’ worth.
Being penny wise, not pound foolish really is good advice. The same concept of leverage applies to saving money. If you cut your monthly coffee consumption by two-thirds, but it’s only one percent of your total budget, you won’t save much money. If your rent eats up half your budget, that’s the one to tackle. Calibrating your time will save you time. Sure, maybe you can drive 72 miles an hour instead of 68 by weaving in and out of lanes.