Today is a day dedicated to the celebration of PI. Not blueberry, sweet potato, or key lime PIE – we’re writing about the mathematical constant whose value (3.14159…) corresponds to today’s date, March 14.
Mathematical constants are important, interesting, and useful numerical relationships that do not change – they’re constant. PI is probably the most important constant; something called the golden ratio (1.618 in its shortened form) would probably be next in significance.
The expression PI measures the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. Every circle, regardless of its size, conforms to this number. PI’s uses, or applications, include simple and complex measurements of circles in architecture, trigonometric functions, physics. If New York city had a viable public education system, PI would likely be taught in middle school. Sadly, we do not have such a system.
The apartheid-based public school system serves PI in only certain neighborhoods. And like the fictional “soup Nazi,” the education bureaucrats tell our children, NO “PI” FOR YOU!! With only 1 of 4 students reaching math proficiency, the system’s Black and Brown majority barely gets an educational appetizer, let alone PI for desert.
Why should we care? Education in general, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in particular will be the measuring stick separating the haves from the have-nots, the economically-empowered from the powerless, the lower classes from the classes they dominate. The poor public school performance created by the system guarantees a low ceiling for our children’s futures.
As the ancestor Frederick Douglass taught us, “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” In the same way, higher knowledge gives a (wo)man economic independence and the tools to maintain their freedom and equality.
New York’s history teaches us that unless parents get angry, impatient, and involved the school system will serve every constituency other than its student majority.
Anyone can calculate or approximate this relationship by working with any circle. First measure the circle’s diameter. Then (this is the tricky part,) use a cloth or flexible ruler to measure the length of the circle itself. It’s easy, but don’t use a steel ruler because, when it’s retracted into its case, it might give you major paper cut-like injury.
PI is what the scientists (math is a science) call an irrational number – a number that can’t be expressed as the ratio between two integers. The 3.14, or 3.14159…, or 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592 … are the rounded versions of a number with an unlimited/infinite and non-repeating number of decimal places. It’s value has been calculated to 100,000 places. There are competitions for who can recite the most digits without errors.
This number was calculated over 4,000 years ago. And like most things East African, ancient, and significant, credit for its ownership – its conceptualization and calculation – is contested in modern academic circles. Was it Egypt? Was it Mesopotamia? Left out of the conversation are the Nubian and Sudanese civilizations that preceded and shaped Egypt culture and technology.
PI is a holiday celebrated only in circles that understand and respect the power of math and science. It’s non-celebration and the general lack of understanding if its importance is another sign that America is losing (or already has lost) its standing as an world class academic and scientific society.