Eduardo Saenz de Cabezón
Teacher and educator
“Math is useful to understand the world and to understand ourselves”
A reflection on the importance of mathematics
Everybody has a mathematician inside them, and that mathematician can help you with many things. At school, we probably did not get on very well with them, with that inner mathematician, and this is also true for adulthood. Let me tell you, many people have some sort of trauma with their inner mathematician. But why is that mathematician there? They are there to help us to live a more meaningful life, to be happier. And they help us much more and know much more than what many people give them credit for. Not only do they know how to count and measure, which is already quite a lot, not only do they know how to think logically, but they can also make us live a more human, fulfilling, joyful life.
Mathematics is behind everything we do in this world, in science and technology. You have to be a very uneducated person to deny that. What good does this do me, in my everyday life? It serves no purpose. What's the catch, then? The catch to me seems to be that we only want to study things that we will later use in our profession. Why? We would miss out on almost everything. I am afraid that almost everything that we learn in school is not going to do us any good in our day-to-day lives, we are not going to physically use that knowledge. But the process of learning all of that has shaped us as people, it has opened the world to us, it places us within our tradition. The other thing that math is useful for is to be happier, more fulfilled, to understand the world we live in and to understand ourselves. I believe that mathematics is the language through which we read the world. There are few things that are more human than mathematics.
I believe that schools need to be more committed to people's current situation; people should go to school happy; teachers and students should go to school happy; we should be happy because we like what we are learning, we find it interesting. This is not incompatible with it being useful in the future. So, of course, we have all of our future ahead of us. Of course, children, boys and girls, learn for the future, but not only; the present also counts.
Mathematics has been taught since Ancient Greece and plays a significant role in education systems since ancient times. Why? There must be something about it for it to be present everywhere. There are three basic reasons why so much time and energy is dedicated to mathematics. One is the development of abstract thought. Knowing how to analyze problems, how to find common traits. Math also pushes us out of our comfort zone to search for conditions that are slightly beyond our reach. Math is the language of science. Mathematics is present in any scientific approach to any discipline. Something else that often gets cast aside and that may be less present at school, is that math is a powerful tool to become a more critical-thinking person. The more capable one is of rigorously analyzing situations, with the rigor that math provides, the more difficult it is to be deceived. And also if you know how to read the data, you know how to interpret the arguments. And there is the logic, there is the statistics. Every day there is someone that is trying to manipulate us. If you are backed by the rigor of math and are able to understand that, you are harder to manipulate, you are freer, you are a critical-thinking being.
More on Eduardo Saenz de Cabezó
- With a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Rioja, Eduardo Saénz de Cabezón is a professor of Computer Languages and Systems, and founded the group of scientists and researchers “Big Van Científicos sobre Ruedas” (Big Van Scientists on Wheels). He is a researcher in the field of computer algebra.
- How can we help children with their math homework?
We cannot know everything. This applies to math and all other subjects. When our children are small, math can be controlled and learned easily. Families can help with homework up to this stage. Then there will come a time when we will not be able to help. But there is something that we can always do. One thing is being by their side through a process that is difficult sometimes. Throughout that process, something really important is mistakes. A mistake is not the same as failure, and sometimes we treat them the same. From failure, we can learn; from a mistake, we can learn more. From defeats, we can learn that we have limits, that we cannot always win. But from mistakes we can learn more, because we can identify why we are failing, what is tripping us up, why we are failing in this way, through a mistake. Something that I believe that we as families can do and that would be of pivotal importance is to help our children to identify the mistakes that they make.