Remembrance of Innumeracies Past excerpted from Innumeracy - Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (Hill and Wang, Farrar Straus, 1989) by John Allen Paulos
The earliest memory I have of wanting to be a mathematician was at age ten, when I calculated that a certain relief pitcher for the then Milwaukee Braves had an earned run average (ERA) of 135. (For baseball fans: He allowed five runs to score and only retired one batter). Impressed by this extraordinarily bad ERA, I diffidently informed my teacher, who told me to explain the fact to my class. Being quite shy, I did so with a quavering voice and reddened face. When I finished, he announced that I was all wrong and that I should sit down. ERAs, he asserted authoritatively, could never be higher than 27.

At the end of the season THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL published the averages of all Major League players, and since this pitcher hadn't played again, his ERA was 135 as I had calculated. I remember thinking of mathematics as a kind of omnipotent protector. You could prove things to people and they would have to believe you whether they liked you or not. So, still smarting from my perceived humiliation, I brought in the paper and showed it to the teacher. He gave me a dirty look and again told me to sit down. His idea of good education apparently was to make sure everyone remained seated.

Though not dominated by martinets like my teacher, early mathematics education is generally poor. Elementary schools by and large do manage to teach the basic algorithms for multiplication and division, addition and subtraction, as well as methods for handling fractions, decimals and percentages. Unfortunately, they don't do as effective a job in teaching when to add or subtract, when to multiply or divide, or how to convert from fractions to decimals or percentages. Seldom are arithmetic problems integrated into other school work - how much, how far, how old, how many. Older students' fear of the dreaded "word" problems stems, in part, from the fact that they're too rarely asked to find solutions to these sorts of quantitative questions at the elementary level. .....