Understanding Probability

Election season is a great time to witness the continuing American struggle with probabilities. All too often people will see odds or a prediction for a particular event and when the outcome of lower probability comes true, they will say the prediction was “wrong”. Of course this is an inaccurate conclusion considering there was still a probability for the less likely option to happen. Unfortunately, a lot of the populous does not seem to realize this despite it being useful knowledge well beyond just election forecasts.

Probability is of course everywhere. It is involved in everyone’s lives from determining the potential consequences of our actions to being better informed about taking risks. Understanding it can lead to much better decisions about practically everything if the right information is available. This includes understanding scientific findings, something that will likely be of tremendous growing importance going forward (and already is).

Given the widespread applicability of probability and all the facts and figures out there, a better systemic understanding of probability has the potential to drastically improve outcomes. And once more it is a relatively small cost at the school level to emphasize probability and statistics more than it currently is. American schoolchildren are infamous for their distaste of fractions, but it is time to make sure they not only know how to use them but to apply them by the time they graduate high school. A dedicated statistics class in high school could potentially do the country a lot of good. Furthermore, integrating the meaning of various statistics in other classes from government to biology is easily done and could help reinforce the understanding of probabilities. A simple change that I think is worth the risk to pursue.

This is the third post in a series about relatively simple changes to education curriculums that could have tremendous long-term benefits to the country. See my first idea here and my second here.

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