Math is Defensive Too

As I read the economic headlines today and the news about AIG’s bailout, I can’t help think about how much math is being done right now all over Washington, Wall Street, and the world. Serious folks are attempting to calculate the impact of this financial melee across instruments, sectors, and countries. Some of the math is easy, more is fuzzy, and even more is mind-numbing in its complexity. But what is pretty clear is that the math that got us here was flawed. Kind of reminds me of a Warren Buffett quote: “There are really only three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.” (Source:1998 Berkshire Hathaway annual report) What does this any of this have to do with defensive math?

Well, the average adult (aka former math student) should probably consider doing the math on how these headlines might impact them and their family (e.g., investments, mortgage, retirement, credit cards, college funds, savings, etc.). I’ll call this defensive math. Not to trivialize this, but I believe that over 75% of the required defensive math skills are taught by 3rd grade, and yet too few people really have the skills or confidence necessary to be defensive. This is also why I believe parents need to help and encourage their child at an early age to appreciate the flexibility, relevance, and application of math in and beyond their classrooms.

Early Math Skills Build a Strong Foundation for Success

We often talk about how a solid understanding math can help one prosper in school and life. Yet it’s equally true that it can help us be defensive too. Again I’m reminded of Warren Buffett, who once stated that his success (both in good times and bad) was in part due to the fact that a young age he could do mathematical computations in his head.



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