Swickard: Use lottery to fund math education

© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  Surveys on American saving and investing indicates many Americans have no investments. Their plan for old age is to win the lottery. While I agree: “No dreamer too small, no dream too big,” there are limits to what society should encourage.
            People who understand math do not believe in the lottery. It’s like someone jumping out of an airplane without a parachute with the intention of landing on something soft. An action slightly possible but not probable.
            The New Mexico Lottery, under the guise of raising money for education, preys upon math challenged people. The ads suggest riches will shower down if you buy a lottery ticket.
            The proceeds from this tax on people who don’t understand math does go to education. However, it goes to general education, in fact, anything students wants to study. The tobacco settlement has the tobacco companies funding anti-smoking campaigns.
            Likewise, the New Mexico Lottery should go directly and entirely to math education. Every dollar should be channeled to making New Mexico students the envy of the nation when it comes to math.
            The first time I voiced this position I admit I was just trying to get a rise out of people, which I did. Upon reflection, I believe I stumbled onto something. If people can buy lottery tickets with the expectation of winning, they are showing their lack of math education.
             We should take their lack of numerate ability and use it constructively so that future generations don’t end up in the same condition. That’s the tobacco settlement method and it applies to people who lack numerate ability to the point that they think buying two lottery tickets significantly improves their chances of winning.
            The operational concept most lacking in people who are not numerate appears to be the ability to think in scale, to judge two things as they relate to each other in mathematical terms. People can buy a lottery ticket occasionally if the mood strikes. But at those odds, don’t expect anything but dreams.
            Once I was flying out of Chicago on a commercial airliner. We were on the ground in a long line of jets waiting to take off. The man next to me confessed that he was petrified of flying but had to make this trip.
            I pointed out the window. “There are over a hundred jets ready to take off just right here. Thousands of airplanes are in the air.”
            “Gosh,” he said, “I hope we don’t run into any of them.”
            I continued, “The scale of airline dysfunction (I didn’t want to use the word ‘crash’) is about one plane in two million flights. Not bad odds.”
            The guy next to me brightened slightly. “But what if this airplane is the one in two million?” he questioned.
            “Then whoever has a window seat gets a good look at it coming.” That sent him back into gloom. I forgot to ask if he had a lottery ticket, but I bet he did. He needed some math education.



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