Politics

Declining American Math Scores Are a Bullish Sign of Soaring Progress

Can you change a tire on a car? Could you plant and harvest a wheat crop? If provided with the materials, could you knit a sweater? Tick tock, tick tock?

In my case the answer is a resounding NO to all three questions. If transplanted to the past, I’d be rather pathetic. Arguably an object of pity.

It’s something to keep in mind with education top of mind. Supposedly what we learn in school has predictive qualities for future earnings and achievement. Which is absurd. We know this simply because what they teach in school (whether public or private) hasn’t changed much in decades. At the same time the nature of work has evolved in substantial fashion.

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Figure that commerce doesn’t wait for academia, which is a blinding glimpse of the obvious. The late Steve Jobs said in a speech once that the most valuable class he attended while at Reed College (from which he dropped out) was one on calligraphy. It gave him the idea for multiple fonts on computer concepts running through Jobs’s head that most certainly weren’t running through the heads of his professors.

What about Jeff Bezos. Was he taught “the internet” and “online commerce” while at Princeton? Hopefully the questions answer themselves. Same with the question of whether or not Elon Musk was taught “electric vehicles” while at Queen’s University in Canada.

Please keep all of the above in mind as the deep-in-thought lament declining American math scores. Supposedly it bodes ill for the future. Actually, quite the opposite.

What it signals is progress. It’s a sign that we’re rapidly forgetting what we quite simply don’t need to know. Yes, you read that right. Where we’re headed Algebra and Calculus won’t be required. Surely I’ve talked millions off of the ledge. One can at least hope.

At a time when technological advances increasingly do for us, the knowledge formerly required to thrive rapidly becomes less valuable. Backwards you say?

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More realistically, the worship of education is the backwards part. It’s accepted wisdom among the deep in thought that without education, we’ll fall hopelessly behind. Americans don’t know who the Supreme Court justices are, they don’t know who the Speaker of the House is, and they can’t do advanced math. Nation in decline! Sell bonds! And Stocks! Again, quite the opposite.

In the U.S. we don’t need to memorize the Supreme Court justices or the Speaker of the House simply because if we ever need to know either, we can ask Siri or Alexa or name your device. We don’t need math because machines do it for us. Again, progress.

The mistake is in the presumption-that-just-won’t-die that progress is born of filling our brains with what they’re said to teach us at school. In reality, the surest sign of societal or economic progress is how much knowledge we can shed. Math is no different.

If machines do the math for us, we don’t stop thinking as much as we suddenly have the capacity to learn what we didn’t have the time or capacity to learn in the past. No doubt it’s cool to be able to change a tire, knit a sweater, or grow vegetables in the backyard, but it’s certainly not necessary. In the “closed economy” that is the world economy, we’re free to unlearn all sorts of formerly necessary skills. Divided labor with man and machine is brilliant.

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What’s important is that there are no exceptions to the rule about “unlearning.” Which is why the reasonable will turn their noses up to falling math scores. Far from a sign of decline, they signal life and living standards that are getting better by the day. Oh, to be a baby today!

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

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