MATHEMATICS AWARENESS WEEK EDITORIAL
MATHEMATICS: IT'S FUNDAMENTAL
We know it is important to be literate, to be able to read and write
and to communicate effectively. It is readily apparent to us how
important literacy is in the work place.
Being numerate is equally important, though a facility with numbers
is not often regarded as vital for an educated person in our society.
In fact, the opposite is often and unfortunately true. Many
Americans regard their inability to deal with numbers as acceptable,
even fashionable. Worse yet, we mistakenly lump a national discomfort
with simple arithmetic into a notion that dealing well with numbers
is irrelevant - and even a wasteful preoccupation or a boring skill.
Our national willingness to avoid what is now the language of
technology is having disastrous results. Let's review a few facts.
U.S. students recently ranked 14th out of 20 countries in an
international comparison of 8th grade mathematics achievement. Of
the four million or so 10th grade students now taking mathematics,
only about one eighth or 500,000 of them are still likely to be
interested in pursuing any kind of mathematically related career by
the time of high school graduation. U.S. citizens received less than
half of the doctorates in mathematics awarded by U.S. institutions of
higher education last year, and the figure, at 43 percent, was the
lowest ever recorded. Moreover, women received only 22 percent of
the mathematics doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens.
The ideas we convey to our children, to our students, and to our
fellow workers about numeracy are part of our national culture. If
that culture is one that reflects an interest in and a facility with
numbers and abstract ideas, then we will encourage technological
literacy in our society.
The last week of April is Mathematics Awareness Week, during which
mathematicians throughout the nation participate in a variety of
activities to highlight the value of mathematics. President Reagan
inaugurated Mathematics Awareness Week in 1986 by signing an official
In classrooms across the country this week there will be special
activities to encourage young women and minority students in
mathematics. On college campuses, there will be special programs
designed to welcome more mathematics majors into departments. And in
states, governors, mayors and other elected officials will sign
proclamations in honor of the celebration.
The National PTA mailed a packet of materials about mathematics to
60,000 PTAs nationwide a year ago in an effort to encourage local
groups to think and talk their way around the many phobias that turn
American students off to math. That kit of 70 simple activities,
"Math Matters: Kids Are Counting on You," has just been published in
Spanish - due to popular demand.
Our children are counting on us. We know that American children are
as capable as their peers in other countries. They do not generally
do as well in mathematics because they do not take enough mathematics
courses and because they do not progress fast enough in the courses
they do take. But programs to popularize mathematics have been met
with extraordinary success rates and calls for more.
During Mathematics Awareness Week let's work together to stress the
importance of numeracy as a foundation for careers in science,
technology and managerial jobs. President Bush recently urged us on
again toward excellence in mathematics and science by the year 2000.
1991 is an excellent year to start working toward this goal so that
we will be more than ready for the technological world and work place
of the next century.
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For Immediate Release Contact: Kathleen Holmay
Mailed: April 11, 1991
MATHEMATICS AWARENESS WEEK
TO BE OBSERVED APRIL 21-27
(Washington, DC).....National Mathematics Awareness Week will be
observed from April 21 through the 27 to mark the contributions
mathematicians make to our society and to note the significance
mathematics plays in our daily lives. President Reagan signed a
national proclamation inaugurating the first National Mathematics
Awareness Week in 1986.
The theme for Mathematics Awareness Week 1991 is MATHEMATICS: IT'S
FUNDAMENTAL, which highlights the uses of mathematics in industry,
technology and science. A poster commemorating Mathematics Awareness
Week 1991 features the applications of mathematics in four areas: DNA
research, airplane design, crystallography, and communications.
Over the last six years, Mathematics Awareness Week has helped focus
national attention on the need to develop more interest and ability
in mathematics among our nation's youth, and in particular, to
enhance their problem-solving skills. In classrooms across the
country this week there will be special activities to encourage young
women and minority students in mathematics. On college campuses,
there will be special programs designed to welcome more mathematics
majors into departments. And governors, mayors and other elected
officials will sign proclamations to observe the celebration.
Events taking place throughout the nation during Mathematics
Awareness Week range from mathematics field days where students work
in teams to solve problems, to conferences on college campuses where
mathematics faculty focus on how to attract more students into the
field, and to symposia where new topics in mathematics are discussed.
Special activities taking place this year include:
*MathConn at Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania, which brings girls
from grades 7 and 8 to a college campus for a day;
*the creation of a traveling mathematics exhibit as a joint event of
the mathematics, museum studies and theater departments at George
Washington University in Washington, DC; and,
*a murder mystery "whodunit" using mathematical clues, staged at
Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The American mathematical sciences community began this week because
of its concern that an increasing number of children, students, and
workers have negative impressions and attitudes about mathematics.
The objectives of the week include encouraging an interest in numbers
and emphasizing the importance of quantitative reasoning.
Mathematics Awareness Week is sponsored by the Joint Policy Board for
Mathematics(JPBM) located in Washington, DC. JPBM is the public
policy arm of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical
Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied
Mathematics. Funding for the week is provided by Apple Computer,
Exxon Education Foundation, Monsanto Fund, and the U.S. Army
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