Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy

Princeton – The world is awash in numbers, yet many educated adults remain functionally innumerate. To address this issue, The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has announced the publication of Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy, which is intended to create a national discussion of the increasingly important links among mathematics, numeracy, and democracy in the changing world of the twenty-first century.

“This conversation must be carried forward first and foremost in school and college settings. However, [it] is not for educators alone. In every way possible, the public must be encouraged to join the discussion,” said Robert Orrill, Executive Director of the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (NCED) at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. NCED assembled a Quantitative Literacy Design Team (see attached list), whose collaborative effort produced the book.
Lynn Arthur Steen, Professor of Mathematics at St. Olaf College, led the Design Team, and offered this explanation: “Quantitative literacy is to mathematics what literacy is to language. In addition to the skills of reading and writing, today’s society requires logical reasoning and numerical thinking.” He also remarked that, “In the computer age where decisions are often based on numbers and data, democracy depends on a numerate citizenry. So too does our economy, and our citizens’ livelihoods.”

Margaret B. Cozzens, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Colorado Institute of Technology, said, “The enormous value of this book…is that it sets the stage for the important discussions that must take place now, not five years, or 20 years from now. As a society we can no longer accept the bragging statements that ‘I can’t do numbers; I have a mental block against math,’ any more than we willingly accept people who say ‘I can’t read and am proud of it.’ Mathematicians, statisticians, teachers, and others are all responsible for this state of affairs and this book makes it abundantly clear to the reader that we all must solve the problem.”

The goal of the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (NCED) is to advance a vision that will unify and guide efforts to strengthen K-16 education in the United States. In pursuing this aim, NCED especially focuses on the continuity and quality of learning in the later years of high school and the early years of college. From its home at The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, NCED draws on the energy and expertise of scholars and educators in the disciplines to address the school-college continuum. At the heart of its work is a national reexamination of the core literacies – quantitative, scientific, historical, and communicative – that are essential to the coherent, forward-looking education all students deserve. The work of the Quantitative Literacy Design Team and the preparation of this book have been supported by funds from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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