My Use of Mathematics Makes A Young Lady Weep

In my composition class, one of the options for the classification and division essay is an assignment I stole from Bess Ward, a science professor at Princeton (I found this in a book by Natalie Angier called The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Basics of Science) and her idea is to take something you worry about and do a risk-assessment on it . . . for example, you eat two cans of tuna a week and you want to figure out if this is actually dangerous so you do the math-- you figure out how much mercury is in each can and you multiply this by what you eat and check the EPA web-site and see if you are consuming a dangerous amount of mercury . . . so first I ask the students to list specific things they worry about . . . and they list things such as: shark attack, tanning too much, not getting into college, dying alone, being eaten by spiders, smoking etc.-- and then I have them classify them into three categories-- Innocuous, Worth Consternation, and Red Alert!-- and then I have them switch so someone can constructively criticize their logic . . . and here I offer some statistics and mathematical strategies they can use when assessing the risk of their various worries . . . for instance, the odds of an American being killed by a shark is 1 in 264 million . . . so maybe you don't need to worry about that as much as drowning or being hit by lightning; so after the class has done this and I'm walking around inspecting lists, I notice a pair of worries that would be instructive for the class, so I ask the student if I can use her list (and this is a student who mentioned when we started this that it might bring up some serious emotions and anxieties) and she says sure (I've had this student in several classes) and so I proceed to explain to the class that the girl's fear of dying in a plane crash isn't statistically likely (over 10 million flights and no fatalities last year) but that her fear of "her college boyfriend leaving her" might be something worth worrying over because there was probably a far greater chance of a high school relationship disintegrating than the hull of a Boeing . . . and I guess my logic was so convincing that it upset her and she broke into tears and needed to take a walk to compose herself . . . but she was laughing about it by the end of class, and because of my previous track record of invented scenarios, the other students thought it was some kind of pre-arranged set-up . . . but I told them it was NOT and I will be more careful with my razor sharp logic in the future.

3 comments:

zman said...

It seems like you make a girl cry at least once a semester.

Dave said...

sometimes it's a boy.

Kevin M. Brady said...

and "at least" is worth noting...

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.