Thursday, January 21, 2010

In defense of mathematics

Today I got an email from a former student whose college professor had them takes sides in a letter written by a pre-law student, who, thinking that math was irrelevant to his career, was asking to be "excused" from having to take any more math courses.

Naturally, my former student decided NOT to defend the student who had written the letter, but against the idea that math is not important for becoming an attorney. She, along with about half the class, had to defend their position (not a bad assignment), but was shocked to hear after the assignment that her own professor not only defended the student, but actually took sides AGAINST the students that took sides against the letter-writing student, citing reasons, among others, that a student shouldn't have to waste what would amount to an extra year of undergraduate studies taking unnecessary math courses if their profession of chose didn't use math.

I got a plaintive letter from this student who was bothered by her professor's immediate dismissal of her group, not to mention the professor was WRONG!

She asked for my opinion, and here's my response:

First of all, it's a poor student who has to take another year of college simply because of math credits. A REAL student, pre-law especially, should be crafty and slick enough to fit those courses in without having to take extra an extra year. Just take 18 instead of 12 hours, and cut out unneeded electives like "ballroom dancing" and "Advanced Golf."

Secondly, people with great math skills who also have great communication skills make great lawyers. Mathematics requires deductive reasoning, drawing sound inferences, creatively conjecturing as well as demanding patient pertinacity, attention to detail, the discipline of concentrated daily efforts, and forges the habits of mind I would hope any lawyer defending ME would have (not that I plan on needing a lawyer).

In fact, I took the LSAT once and scored quite well on it. The test had many, many questions requiring the skills mentioned above, especially logic (which is a branch of mathematics). I attribute my great score to my math background.

True, you'll probably never have to find the integral of a trig function in order to save a client from death row, but anyone who says that the benefits of taking math courses would not help him become a better attorney, for reasons already mentioned, will probably end up being the type of attorney that advertises on TV and in phone books.

The best attorneys, like the best doctors, and any other professional, don't need advertising and AREN'T in it for the money.

I hope that answers your question, if not settles the debate.

Feel free to share my response with your professor.

By the way. I took the LSAT out of curiosity, not necessarily because I wanted to be a lawyer.

1 comment:

David said...

I'm learning in my proof classes that mathematics is all about making logical arguments, being very precise, and communicating effectively. Starbird's Discrete Math class is sharpening my communication skills just as much as debate practice ever did.

Come to think of it, I'd rather be defended by a mathematician than a lawyer who can't do basic undergraduate math.