Monday, September 09, 2013

POLL: Americans Think Math Is Most Valuable School Subject

Well, this is heartening news to this college mathematics professor's ears! Gallup has polled Americans about what they think the "most valuable subject" they studied in school, and the subject that came up the most (it's a free response question) was mathematics, with just over one-third of respondents mentioning it.

Gallup reports:
The results, from Gallup's Aug. 7-11 Work and Education poll, are generally similar to those from 11 years ago. The most notable difference is a sharp increase in the percentage mentioning science, from 4% to 12%. While still well behind math and English, science has now moved ahead of history into third place in the rank order of subjects.
The question does not specify which level of school -- grade school, high school, college, or postgraduate study -- respondents should use in assessing the value of subjects. Thus, respondents were free to look back over their entire educational history to select the subject they thought was most valuable to them.
However, responses do differ according to Americans' own level of educational attainment, with math increasingly less likely to be mentioned by those with higher levels of education. Specifically, 43% of those with a high school education or less say math has been most valuable, compared with 19% among those with postgraduate education.
In contrast, the importance of English rises with higher levels of formal education, tying math as the most important among four-year college graduates and coming in first among postgraduates. It could be that those with higher education levels are more likely to use written communication as a part of their jobs.
This is an interesting result.  I wonder if people with less education are just telling respondents what they think the pollster wants to hear, and not what is actually the most valuable subject, but one they perceive as the most valuable subject they learned in school.  People who have more education seem to believe that communication skills (English, writing, reading) are important in whatever endeavor one is engaged in, although I would argue, so is the ability to calculate and reason quantitatively. I find it very curious that Gallup last asked this question way back in 2002(!)

There are other demographic variations  on what subject is the most valuable with women respondents choosing English slightly above mathematics (29% to 28%) and with men placing math (40%) and science (15%) over English (13%). Conservatives more strongly support math as their most valuable subject (38%) but both moderates (35%) and liberals (26%) do as well.

What do YOU think, dear reader, was your most valuable subject in school? Feel free to respond in the comments!

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