I'm too pretty to do math

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By John Pawlak

 I stocked up on supplies from Smith’s today and took advantage of Smith’s Savings Card sales.
 The total at the cash register was $101.04, but with my savings card I saved $103.54.
So as I figure it, I actually made $2.50 ­— now that’s a real deal!
Sadly, this type of arithmetical absurdity would be just one example of how our nation is rapidly sinking into a black hole of math.  
Computers and calculators have replaced neural connections and many people are now chained to them in a prison of innumeracy.  
Cash registers in fast food restaurants have pictures to help the workers figure manage (click here for burger, click here for cheese, click here for lobotomy.)
A person I know was in a store and when given her change, she wanted some one dollar bills and asked, “Do you have some smaller bills?”  
The clerk shook his head and said, “No, I’m sorry.  They’re all the same size.”
Well, I’m not really sure if this was a problem with basic math.  
Perhaps the ‘70s were just really good to this guy.
But difficulty with everyday calculations isn’t a new phenomenon.  
A total lack of appreciation for what a number means has infected this country since I was very young.  
My favorite TV math blooper was on an early episode of Star Trek.  The cast was sitting in the bridge listening to a series of loud beats over the speaker system.  
Captain Kirk said, in a very authoritative voice, “What you are listening to gentlemen is the sound of our heartbeats amplified by ONE to the power of four!”
We are indeed on a trek to oblivion, destined to boldly go where no intelligent life has been before (and probably never will.)
Let’s be honest. Math can be boring, even downright annoying.  
We need math to incorporate more real world context into its curriculum.  
A Republican stands 420 feet from the base of a sheer cliff. At the top of cliff, 355 feet up, stands his neighbor, a very loud and outspoken Democrat.  
The Republican wishes to exercise his Second Amendment rights and decides to send a ballistic hello to his neighbor.  
What angle of elevation should the patriot use to achieve the correct trajectory for his Constitutional message?
 Don’t laugh.  With Texas manufacturing the majority of textbooks, it’s only a matter of time before students delight in calculating exponential decay rates on the extinction of arctic wildlife.  
So how bad are things?  Well, OECD math rankings in 2009 placed the United States 28 out of 30 nations tests.
So yeah, it’s bad, but there’s hope, and it comes in an algebraic genetic form, this being “XX.”  
Forty years ago, it was presumed, implicitly and explicitly, by parents, students, and teachers alike that girls simply weren’t good at math.  
Today, our classes are filled with girls eating math for lunch.  These girls may in fact be America’s best chance for our future.
But not if Madison Avenue has anything to say about it. Last year, stores began selling girls’ T-shirts that read, “I’m too pretty to do math.”
This was sadly reminiscent of the talking Barbie doll released in the early ‘90s that cheerfully squeaked, “Math class is tough!”
Seriously, this type of garbage actually sells and then people wonder why our country is going down the toilet?  
“Tots and Tiaras” struts five year old girls around with bleached hair, false eyelashes and fake breasts.  
What hope is there when girls are taught that beauty is skin deep and only skin deep?
Going any further, like perhaps as far as the brain, has no commercial value.
Well, I’d like to take this time to congratulate all the amazing girls I’ve had in my math classes who shrug off this mentality and go for the academic gold with gusto.  
Many of my best math students are girls and they equate books, not looks, with success.  
These are strong willed, career oriented, intelligent girls who will shatter any ceilings put in their way.
Math rules and stupid T-shirts drool!  You go girls!
 John Pawlak
Los Alamos columnist