Some questions are so rarely asked that we are astonished anyone would ask them at all. The entire world seems to agree that knowing mathematics is the key to something important, they just forget what. Benjamin Franklin asked this question in 1749 while thinking about what American schools should be like and concluded that only practical mathematics should be taught. The famous mathematician G.H. Hardy asked this question (A Mathematicians's Apology) and concluded that while he loved the beauty of mathematics there was no real point teaching it to children.

Today, we worry about the Koreans and Lithuanians doing better than us in math tests and every "education president" asserts that we will raise math scores, but no one asks why this matters. Vague utterances about how math teaches reasoning belie the fact that mathematicicans do everyday reasoning particularly better than anyone else. To anyone who reads this and still is skeptical, I ask: what is the Quadratic Formula? You learned it in ninth grade, you couldn't graduate high school without it. When was the last time you used it? What was the point of learning it?

ROGER SCHANK is the Chairman and Chief Technology Officer for Cognitive Arts and has been the Director of the Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University since its founding in 1989. One of the world's leading Artificial Intelligence researchers, he is books include: Dynamic Memory: A Theory of Learning in Computers and People , Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory, The Connoisseur's Guide to the Mind, and Engines for Education.