Latin? Try Basic Math

To the Editor:

A May 19 letter suggested teaching Latin to make college diplomas more readable.

Although making sure that the college population gets a well-rounded education is a laudable goal, I, a professor of college math for more than 30 years, bemoan the fact that people cannot do simple arithmetic.

Many college students (and, yes, college graduates) cannot add fractions, multiply decimals or calculate the square footage of an L-shaped room (forget about calculus or higher math.)

These things are required in everyday life to convert recipes, calculate a sale price or buy an air-conditioner. Calculators are a bad substitute. They absolve the student from the requirement of thinking.

On a recent exam, a student complained to me not that the exam was too long or too hard — but that he had to think.

Arnold Fischthal

New York , May 20, 2009

The writer is an assistant professor of mathematics at Queens College .

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