Do The Math

Prepared by:

Joseph Malkevitch
Department of Mathematics
York College (CUNY)
Jamaica, New York 11451


web page:

Perhaps no phrase which involves the word "math" irks me more than "do the math." One constantly hears this on radio and television and it makes clear that mathematics is limited in many people's minds to arithmetic and the doing of calculations.

However, while mathematics includes arithmetic, it is much more than arithmetic. In order to abstract the research that is done in mathematic the American Mathematical Society (AMS) helped developed a classification list for the parts of mathematics. This list has evolved with time, the latest list was developed in 2000:

The AMS is working on a revision for 2010 because mathematics is constantly growing and developing new tools and applications of these tools. If one examines the current list, one can get some notion of how broad and complex modern mathematics has become. When people in the business world lament about the mathematical skills that their employees have it is not typically because they can not do arithmetic or calculate properly that they are concerned. It is more often than not a concern with people being able to use common sense and thinking skills to draw conclusions from "data" and know what course to pursue in a situation that is similar to but not exactly like what has been seen before. There are many situations where it is not realistic to expect people who are not professional mathematicians to have the skills tied to the areas charted by the AMS. However, all educated American should have a better idea of the range of mathematical concerns and applications. Mathematics educators are giving increasing attention to the importance of being able to take new situations and analyze them in either quantitative or qualitative terms. This skill comes within the domain of mathematical modeling and this term (modeling) has two "hits" within the AMS classification scheme:

00A71 Theory of mathematical modeling
93A30 Mathematical modeling (models of systems, model-matching, etc.)

We should be doing more mathematical modeling in our schools so that Americans can "do more math."