We May Be ‘Falling Behind Badly’, But Ethan Brown Is Making Math Cool

You may have seen the sad news recently that, compared to the rest of the world, U.S.-student scholastic aptitude is lagging way behind other countries. Our plight is summed up well by Fareed Zakaria:

“While we’re walking around going nowhere on a people mover, the rest of the world is on an escalator. In a context in which everyone else is playing to win, we’re falling behind badly.”

While our performance in reading and science is flat, our math scores specifically have fallen behind other countries who’ve tilted the teaching equation in their favor.

"Pi" in process
“Pi” in process

But someone is working to bend that U.S. math curve upward. His name is Ethan Brown, and his “Mathemagics” is featured in “Pizza for Good” – in the chapter simply called “Pi.” (Sidebar: that cherry-butter base topping recipe is to die for – the book is worth buying just for that.) Here’s a sample of Ethan at work:

He backs up his stellar performance skills with a “giving back” attitude, too, which is why he appears in the pages of PFG. Here’s an excerpt directly from the book:

For his bar mitzvah community service project, he set a world record by reciting 2,102 digits of the number Tau, also known as 2 pi, and earned $3,000 for the Bethel Public Library.

“When I first did community service for my bar mitzvah, I really wanted to do something big for the community, and I thought it would be really cool if I could integrate my passion for showing people that math is fun, and even incorporate some magic into a whole event, and this idea came to me to promote the idea of Tau at the same time.

“I got up and did a mathematics show for them,” he recounts during our chat in the Browns’ Basement. “And we had a magician come down from Boston. He did sort of a sideshow thing, where he laid down on the bed of nails, he hammered a nail up his nose, that type of thing.”

“I do that every weekday,” I replied.

Ethan Brown, Mathemagician and subject of the PFG chapter, "Pi"
Ethan Brown, Mathemagician, and subject of the PFG chapter, “Pi”

I saw Ethan strut his stuff first hand at a conference in Atlanta, to raucous applause, which led me to see the possibility of us shaking off our issues with math in this country—particularly when we make it fun.

I want to show people that math is fun and interesting, especially because America’s dropped to 32nd in the world in mathematics,” he says. “That’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and entertaining people with math should help that. People are impressed by it usually. And, of course, that’s cool. But I also want them to see the beneficial side of it as well.


Tweet this post to @pizzaforgood using the hashtag #GoodRising. Remember, we have a December Party Challenge out there for folks who want to throw a PFG-powered bash. Get started now: buy the book on Amazon and on the Agate Digital website, and make sure to tell us how you did on the PFG Facebook page.


Pizza for Good is an inspiring and wildly entertaining cookbook, memoir, and philanthropic guide to building local community through food. Will Pollock, the founder of the charitable artists’ collaborative ARTvision and an Atlanta-based writer, has created 20 unique recipes for specialty pizzas that emphasize locally sourced ingredients and come with a buffet of helpful kitchen tips.

But Pizza for Good is also a funny, moving, and thought-provoking series of stories about Pollock’s personal experience in creating a philanthropic arts organization and his community-building efforts as achieved through pizza. His aim is to not only give readers brand new ways to think about their favorite food, but to offer straightforward advice on how they can start their own “Pizza for Good” events for the causes that mean the most to them.

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