The class that many graduate students fear the most is probably statistics. Unless you have a passion for numbers, most of us would rather have a cavity filled without the help of novocaine than take a class in statistics.

“Numbers rule the universe,” said Pythagorus. That is hard to argue. Everything in some way involves numbers. Even Sesame Street put in a special character to teach kids to count—a vampire. Did the Count help teach your kids to count like he did mine?

Remember your Pythagorus Theorem from your high school geometry class? Yeah, I don’t either but it had to do with a triangle. I think Pythagorus had a hidden message for us. (See today’s riddle.)

Numbers do have power. Have you heard anyone refer to election polls lately? The question is “What do numbers mean?” There are fun numbers and then there are numbers, which have severe consequences. Let’s start out with some fun numbers.

Our body produces 100,000 gallons of saliva during a lifetime, which is used to transport our food. Without saliva we couldn’t swallow our food like cheeseburgers and pizza.

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The average American eats 46 slices of pizza per year. Without pizza Americans would probably starve. I ate my first slice of pizza at Pizza Kato in Mankato in the early '60s. I didn’t fall immediately in love with it. I am sure now that I eat my share of 46 slices in a year.

Human heads have the same density of water as watermelons. This is why we need to drink the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Drinking water won’t make us look like a watermelon but it will keep our brain nice and juicy, which is what we want.

OK, time to get serious about numbers.

One child in 6 lives in poverty compared to 1 in 8 adults. That’s 11.9 million impoverished children in the U.S.

Today, the poverty line for a family of 4 is about $26,000. This is half the income needed for basic financial security. It is suggested that the minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour in every state. If someone worked 40 hours per week times 52 weeks a year, that would equal $31,200. If you take out the taxes and benefits, a family of four would barely make enough to live on. What about housing? You see, even at $15 per hour, we can’t make it. I have always said that if someone is willing to work full time, they should be able to live full time. I’ll let you decide what that means.

In 2017, 40 million people struggled with hunger in the United States. This is why all of those organizations like local food shelves are so important. Don’t you find it hard to believe that in 2020 we still have millions and millions of people in the United States that go to bed hungry?

Almost 40% of American children spend at least one year in poverty before they turn 18. It’s one thing to have adults living in poverty but it’s a whole different story when kids have to experience it. We have to do better.

Students from 16 to 24 years old from low-income families are seven times more likely to drop out of school than their well-off peers. How much could we reduce the poverty level if every student graduated?

Currently, 18% of all children in the United States—nearly 13 million kids total—are living in poverty. Poverty has a devastating impact on children. Children experience behavioral, social, emotional and health challenges. They are more likely to fall behind in school and less likely to graduate.

More than 1.5 million public school students nationwide were homeless at some point during the 2017-18 school year. That figure was the highest recorded in more than 12 years.

Although the United States spends more money per student than any other country in the world on education, our educational system only ranks as the 14th best. The percentage of residents who are literate, able to read and write, ranges between 65% and 85%. It should be 100%.

Numbers can be fun but they also can break one’s heart. I wish I could give you some positive numbers about COVID-19 but at the time of this writing, things don’t look good. Let’s hope the numbers improve soon.

I have been watching this flock of 15 mergansers on our lake for the past week. They seem to be having a good time diving and swimming and flexing their wing muscles to prepare for their flight south. The flock sticks together giving one another courage and support. It would be fun to be able to read their minds. They have a lesson to teach us. I think it would be similar to what Thomas Paine said: "It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies."

I haven’t told you yet what is more important than numbers. The answer is, as Thomas Paine said, unity. We need to be united on every front if we are to change and this includes voting “YES” in support of Bemidji schools. Education is the key to a healthy community wherever you may live and a healthy community is what we all want regardless of our political persuasion. I think we all are united and agree on that and this is a good place to start.

This will be my last column before the election. Although numbers will be on everyone’s mind, it will be our unity after the election that will matter most. Please vote.

Riddle: How is it possible to draw a triangle with just two straight lines? (Answer: Draw a triangle and put two lines in it.) To solve today’s problems, we have to think outside the triangle. Thinking outside the box just won’t do it anymore. We need to be more creative. Pythagorus was right about his triangle and he died in 495 B.C.

100%

I am confident that all of the people who win elections in Beltrami County will be supportive of our 100% graduation rate initiative. When we all focus on 100%, we can get the job done.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.