Teaching Statistics Is a Double-Edged Sword in Mathematics

They say knowledge is power, but power ought to come with responsibility also. For instance, if you teach someone how to build something, engineer it, and create it, you’d hope they do so for the right reasons. Just as Mr. Miagi from the “Karate Kid” movie refused to take on an apprentice unless they promised on their honor the use of those skills for protection and good, not starting a fight – we must be careful not to teach the wrong things to those not grown up enough to handle it yet. Okay so, let’s talk about mathematics in our schools and the educational value of statistics for a moment, shall we?

One thing that bothers me about the subject of statistics is how so many people in our population are led astray by the facts and figures they hear or read in the media. Perhaps it is true that old quote; “figures lie and liars figure,” and even if you don’t believe that particular quote, or buy into the concept, there is a very good book you might like to read;

“The Craft of Political Research – Sixth Edition,” by W Phillips Shively, Pearson-Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2004, 176 pages, ISBN 0-13-117440-1.

In that book it teaches folks how to carefully manipulate statistics, charts, graphs, and even questionnaire surveys to get the intended answer to help persuade political opinion in your favor. Yes, there is a book for that, there are several, this just happens to be one that I own in my personal library. Although I was appalled as I read it, I can certainly understand why people use such political manipulation, and it seems to explain much of global warming theory actually.

If more people understood the value in teaching statistical mathematics in high school and college, fewer people would be led astray by manipulated data, and therefore, they would be better informed voters, and more skeptical of the information presented. Is my contention that more mathematics of this type should be taught in our schools. Of course, it is also a double-edged sword, as once you teach people statistics, you also are inadvertently teaching them how to do the same sort of manipulation that has been used on them personally.

Perhaps we do need more mathematics in school, and statistics is full of math, and therefore apropos, but it won’t do much good unless we also teach ethics, discipline, and the difference between right and wrong, as obviously some people don’t seem to get it, or even care too. Please consider all this and think on.