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Math Basics -- step 1: express dislike...

Do you like math? It certainly isn't popular to say you do, and I know a number of people who do enjoy doing math but who never would come out and say so in mixed company. No one, after all, is likely to say they work out multivariate calculus intervals to relax in the evening the way we say we read a few chapters of our favorite book.

In fact, while people who can't read will go to great lengths to hide that fact, people take pride in not being able to do math, even simple math that they need on a daily basis.

Say, for example, you're a knitter. One of the things a knitter needs to do when planning a new project is knit a test swatch -- a square of fabric that he knits using the same yarn and needles he plans to use for his project. Then he can count the stitches per inch and use that to figure out how many stitches he needs to have a sweater be the right size. This requires very simple algebra. No big deal, right?

Well, I have a friend who knits nearly constantly, and yet takes great pride in not being able to do math. How does that work? Well, let's just say I have a lot of scarves. On the rare occasion when he wants to do something where proportions matter, I have been known to do the math for him.

But what's this about? He would never be so unconcerned about not being able to read a recipe. There is social approval in not liking and not being good at math. Despite the fact that it's one of the "three Rs" (reading, writing, 'rithmetic), few people treat math as a fundamental in daily life. People wear dislike of an inability to do math like a badge. As someone who likes math and finds it useful and, yes, even fun, I find this bizarre and confusing. I use it less than reading and writing, but I still use math every day.

And I sure am glad I don't have to ask anyone to help me figure out how to double my chocolate chip cookie recipe or fill out my bank deposit forms.