The standard narrative today is that science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) education is important because we need more data scientists, engineers, and STEM professionals. But promoting STEM education is critical for another reason: it teaches creative problem solving, which is widely applicable and more necessary than ever today. STEM education is linked to success not only in STEM fields, but in many other disciplines and even among many of the world’s most wealthy and powerful people.
At the heart of mathematics is pattern recognition and the joy of numerical play. What psychologists might call fluid reasoning, or mental power, is what you use when you’re struggling with a problem and don’t know what to do. This includes pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and problem solving, and can be considered the engine powering numeracy. It is fundamental to so much of human and technological progress, as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee noted in The Second Machine Age. Math education, then, is really about training people to think creatively within a logical space and to solve problems.