The most common question students have about mathematics is “when will I ever use this?”

The most common question students have about mathematics is “when will I ever use this?” Many math teachers would probably struggle to give a coherent answer, beyond being very good at following precise directions. They will say “critical thinking” but not much else concrete. Meanwhile, the same teachers must, with a straight face, tell their students that the derivative of arccosine is important. (It goes beyond calculus, in case you were wondering)

So here is my list. The concrete, unambiguous skills that students of mathematics, when properly taught, will practice and that will come in handy in their lives outside of mathematics. Some of these are technical, the techniques that mathematicians use every day to reason about complex, multi-faceted problems. Others are social, the kinds of emotional intelligence one needs to succeed in a field where you spend almost all of your time understanding nothing. All of them are studied in their purest form in mathematics. The ones I came up with are,

- Discussing definitions
- Coming up with counterexamples
- Being wrong often and admitting it
- Evaluating many possible consequences of a claim
- Teasing apart the assumptions underlying an argument
- Scaling the ladder of abstraction