Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Math is actually useful. Now be quiet and do your algebra homework.

I prefer words, but math has so many erroneous detractors that it really bothers me. I’ve read letters to the editor where people write that their kids should be taught useful things instead of algebra, and I’m willing to bet that whoever wrote it failed math class.

While I do believe we need better teaching methods in general (more use of the Socratic method, teachers that give you assignments that actually relate to the subject he/she is teaching, more class discussion in big and small groups, block classes for some subjects), I think eliminating any of the core classes for school—math, science, reading, writing and history—is stupid. Besides giving you a basic education in different subjects, they teach you skills that will cross over into whatever you want to do.

Math isn’t just about numbers; it’s about the application of different functions to find an answer. You are taught different skills that you can then use in a wide variety of places, as anyone who has taken advanced calculus can tell you. So while you may never actually use calculus in, say, getting your Masters of Fine Arts, it will teach your brain a method for arriving at solutions. You know. For when you’re trying to decide whether or not the job at Wal-Mart is better than the one at the supermarket (ouch!).

Besides. When you’re a kid, you rarely know what you want to be when you grow up. What if you get to twelfth grade ignoring math and you decide you want to be an engineer? Guess what! Unlike history, writing and even science, you can’t just go into a college calculus course and expect to pick up things, learn from there. See, each math course builds on what you’ve learned from the last. Once you master algebra, you have the tools to understand geometry. Once you have that, you can go for trigonometry and pre-calculus. From there, you can use those skills to master the different facets of calculus, as well as advanced science and engineering classes. You can’t pick it up in the middle and expect to understand it. It’s like a really complex movie.

This message brought to you by: all the people who have failed sixth grade algebra and insisted it’s because no one ever uses it.


  1. Completely agree. Math teaches some very basic problem solving skills. I attribute my problem solving skills to my natural talent wit math. A lot of the basic problem solving skills are lost to the public now though. There should definitely be an emphasis on math in every class and how it relates.

    On a side note, I remember as a kid I use to not take education seriously. Now my cousins complain about their high school and I try to tell them to take in everything you can. I'm sure my elders felt this frustrated with me as I feel with talking to my cousins sometimes. Can't wait for the next round with my own kids, lol.

  2. Great post! Math is definitely an important subject.

  3. I love math, but I didn't figure that out until I took algebra.

    And besides, math is a language (the language used by science). There's a great story that goes with this, but it's long and I've forgotten many of the details (it was a great tangent one of my physics professors went off on one day).

  4. I know that as an English teacher math is supposed to be my nemesis, but I kind of like it. I like problem solving.

  5. I happen to be very good at math and think it is simply taught incorrectly at the primary level. That said - I worry more about the vanishing focus in the arts as it is the arts that make people interesting and give a world view. Basic Math is a life skill and should be mastered by everyone.

  6. I am no fan of math, but by golly, even as a wannabe writer I manage to use algebra at least once a week. (Dangit.) I can't understand why anyone would want to eliminate math.

    When are you posting about recess? Because I will go to the barricades for kids and their recess.

  7. A lot of math supporters. I hated math growing up (ugh. I had some crummy teachers) but really got the hang of it in high school and college. I just hate seeing people complain that it's useless when really, it's not. It's part of everything.

    Jhon is right about the arts vanishing. I had to take math every year in high school but only one semester of art/music. That really is a tragedy. Thanks for pointing it out.

    And Su, you've just given me an idea...

  8. Math is quite important though it does make us teachers want to pull out our hair sometimes!


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