And really, even if every college-prep high school student could mentally multiply 4 times 25 or 10 times 10, would that really bring us closer to reducing the alarming innumeracy rate in America? Not by much.
Taken from a random website:
Functional illiteracy refers to the inability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing and computational skills in everyday life situations. For example, a functionally illiterate adult is unable to fill out an employment application, follow written instructions, or read a newspaper. In short, when confronted with printed materials, adults without basic literacy skills cannot function effectively.
Tweaking a bit:
Functional innumeracy refers to the inability of an individual to use mathematical applications, mathematical terms, ciphering, and computational skills in everyday life situations. For example, a functionally innumerate adult is unable to do simple mental arithmetic, solve a simple word problem, or apply mathematics to real-life situations. In short, when confronted with numbers, adults without basic numeracy skills cannot function effectively.
I think innumeracy is a real problem in our nation, and sadly unrecognized as such by most. Numeracy is not the same thing as plugging-and-chugging one's way through the typical public school mathematics course. Mathematics is about problem-solving, not just rotely repeating steps, just as reading is not just about sounding out syllables. Reading begins with phonics (which is sorely missing from today's classrooms, mind you), but should move on to incorporate synthesizing, reasoning, and applying. The same goes for mathematics, and unfortunately what is disguised as mathematics in our nation is barely the phonics of mathematics.
Our high school math textbooks are still teaching Dick and Jane, and most students will never get the opportunity to read Jane Austen, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, or C.S. Lewis. I would hate reading too if I was still reading Dick and Jane, so it's no wonder mathematics is so vehemently hated by so many. Convincing most students that math is fun is like trying to convince someone that cherries taste good, if all the person has ever had is cherry cough syrup. It's a bitter imitation!
As a high school math tutor, I submit that what most high school students need is not a regular math tutor to reteach them what they were not able to learn or refused to learn from their teacher. What they need is not so much to learn how to solve by factoring, or how to graph an ellipse, or how to calculate the probability of drawing a green marble from a given bag. They need to learn how to learn.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life. I would add, show a man the beauty of fishing, and you've hooked him for a lifetime.