Peer Review, Summer 2004
From the Editor
As this issue of Peer Review goes to press, America is entering
the final throes of the 2004 presidential campaign. Accordingly,
we are beset by public opinion polls and by data-driven arguments
about the relative merits of various policy alternatives.
Our choices as voters may depend, in part, on our ability
to sort through competing claims rooted in quantitative measures.
Yet while its direct relevance to democracy may be more readily
discernible in an election year, quantitative literacy--or
"numeracy," as it is sometimes called--has
become increasingly important to citizenship more generally.
Indeed, effective participation in civic life depends more
than ever upon one's ability to understand quantitative
information and to make informed decisions based upon it.
Citizens are regularly confronted with a dizzying array of
numerical information. On a given day, for example, the media
may report changes in the consumer price index or federal
interest rates, results of clinical trials, statistics from
an educational assessment of local schools, findings from
a study of the long-term health effects of a widely used product;
the list could go on almost endlessly. Moreover, near-omnipresent
computers generate--and the Internet makes available--a
staggering amount of information, much of it quantitative.
For a quantitatively literate citizen, access to this wealth
of information is potentially empowering. The reverse also
is true, however. A quantitatively illiterate citizen--one
who is unable to evaluate statistical arguments competently,
for example, or incapable of grasping the potential implications
of data trends--may be easily mystified. As Lynn Steen
has put it, "an innumerate citizen today is as vulnerable
as the illiterate peasant of Gutenberg's time."
As the economic and social effects of globalization continue
to transform our notions of citizenship and broaden the opportunities
and the need for responsible engagement, colleges and universities
are working to strengthen the historical link between liberal
education and civic engagement. There is also still much work
to be done to help students see the important links between
what they learn in college and their current and future lives
as citizens of a diverse and globally-interconnected society.
Understanding the relationship between quantitative literacy
and mathematics is a vital first step for curricular reform
efforts, for efforts to inform students about important outcomes
of college, and for attempts to clarify definitions of college
readiness. Quantitative literacy is not a watered-down version
of mathematics, and neither is it a replacement for mathematics;
students need both. And as with writing or critical thinking
skills, responsibility for helping students to develop quantitative
literacy must be shared broadly across the curriculum.
This issue of Peer Review offers a primer on quantitative
literacy in college today. In these pages, among other things,
you'll find definitions, arguments for the importance
of quantitative literacy, discussion of its relationship to
mathematics, and different models for developing it. And yes,
you'll even find some data, statistics, and other quantitative
information about it.