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updated: 3/11/2014 10:09 AM

Editorial: One town's idea to cure 'mathphobia'

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Who hates math?

The short answer is probably a lot of us.

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There's a variety of reasons for that. We'll say we don't have a head for numbers, or it's not fun. We wonder about the value in knowing the Pythagorean theorem.

But the real reason often is we're scared -- a mathphobia, if you will. The truth is, math can be daunting.

But a first-year event last weekend in Mundelein caught our attention because municipal government, locals schools and businesses collaborated in an effort to build interest in math by staging a fun community competition.

The Mayor's Cup Math Challenge attracted more than 100 students who competed in three age groups ranging from middle-schoolers to high school seniors.

The project was the brainchild of Mayor Steve Lentz, who was inspired by a similar event in Kentucky.

The Math Challenge had the support of three public school districts and several private schools serving the village.

A handful of local businesses and individuals chipped in nearly $4,000 for cash awards split among the top three winners in each category.

Of course, the aim was more than just fun with numbers.

Lentz, who works for a Libertyville software company, said he thought a math contest would inspire kids to compete and bring attention to the growing educational focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

"I think we need a rallying cry in our country for more engineers," Lentz told the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau. "The future of innovation for our country is going to be built on math in some degree."

STEM education has become a priority nationwide because experts say there has been a decline in students pursuing expertise in those fields and in teachers skilled in those subjects.

Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Internationally, the United States ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations, education officials say.

The threat is obvious in a competitive global economy.

Mundelein's math challenge can help address it in a fundamental way, and moreover it provides a formula other communities can follow to start curing the phobia and making math fun.

The concept goes hand in hand with science Olympiads (an event Saturday at College of Lake County attracted 900 middle and high school students), robotics and other similar events across the suburbs.

And, the cooperation among villages, schools and businesses sends a message to the community about the importance of education.

It adds up to a winning idea.

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