to be numerate

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 18 15:39:18 UTC 2010

I don't know about the comparison with the UK, but, from my personal
observations in the field over the past 20 years, "numeracy" went from
being an occasional term to a dominant one, particularly associated with
the discussion of presence or lack of basic skills among US students.
This is somewhat different than the meaning that used to be assigned to
it when discussed by the progressive leaning education theorist. More
specifically, there is a distinction in how it is used on the rhetorical
"right" and "left" of mathematics education. The "left" sees it as a
term describing something akin to "scientific literacy", i.e., actually
being versed in mathematics, ability to understand mathematics-laden
questions, ability to "think mathematically". The "right", particularly
the standardization movement, sees it as the mathematics "basic skills"
set, including counting, standard algorithms for standard operations,
etc., "appropriate" to education level. Given the ideological divisions,
terminology split should not be surprising. The increase in recent usage
has mostly come from the latter. Paulos used the "innumeracy" more as a
juxtaposition to the former.

Either way, the term is quite common if you actually participate in or
observe, at any level, the rhetorical ping-pong of mathematics education.


On 5/18/2010 7:58 AM, Robin Hamilton wrote:
> "Numeracy" (the term, that is) seems to be much more of a UK thing than a US
> one -- a quick google on<numeracy literacy>  suggested that almost all the
> sites appearing had .uk in the domain name.  I didn't try a parallel search
> on google books or google news, but I suspect the same balance would emerge.
> It's certainly a perfectly familiar term to me in the UK, commonplace even,
> though I can't think when I would first have heard it.
>              Robin

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