Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I hold to the notion that mathematics in everyday life are patently necessary, but higher order mathematics are a complete waste of my time. With that in mind, I want you to think a moment on how I feel about substituting for math classes. I openly admit that I was somewhat vexed a few months ago when, in a fifth grade classroom, I ventured into a lesson requiring some minor algebraic calculations. I quickly sorted it out and continued, but it brought to mind the question of just how many people actually use the higher order mathematics.

Now, I know a few of you will say, "What about engineers and designers and people who build rocket ships?" I would ask you, "What percentage of the population actually falls into that category?" An overwhelmingly small one, I would guess. So, what do you use your higher math skills for? I mean anything over Algebra.

So, armed with my theory of the Futility of Teaching Mathematics, I enter math classes with a certain mix of dread and disdain. I dread that a kid will ask me a question that I am unable to figure out, especially considering that I cannot remember the difference between an integer and a real number, or if there is a difference at all. The disdain comes from the discovery that, in adult life, I have managed not to need that information. When the kids ask why I don't like math, I say, "That's why I chose History!"

This week, I was in a high school math class. I loved this teacher. My job fell into the category of "start the video"...even though they were not watching movies. All they were doing was working on some worksheets. I hardly even glanced at the worksheets other than to note that I might have chucked them in the bin if some teacher had given them to me. The kids were awesome, though. They had a strange culture among them. They...helped...each other. Yes, those that got it willingly helped those who struggled. I suppose my own classmates might have done that for me in school, but I tended to ignore such things at the time and don't remember such a camaraderie in math class. I was totally impressed.

When I handed out one sheet, I told a class, "...and if you need any help..." and I chuckled a mirthless chuckle, "good luck, that's why I'm a history teacher." If we had been in an auditorium, I think I may have gotten a standing ovation! The kids all laughed at that. They were great though, and I DID try to help as best I could.

Much of my time was spent relaxing and watching them work. They were surprisingly diligent.

So, yeah, I'm not a big fan of higher order mathematics. I don't do much myself, but I respect those who do, even though I think it's a bit of a joke to teach it writers, historians, and cashiers. I AM a fan of spaceships, bridges, and cellphones, though.

Did I mention I have rarely met a cashier that actually even used lower math? Yeah, well, maybe I'll write about stupid cashiers next time.


ccd said...


denise said...

Personally, I really like your theory.

My husband took a lot of higher order math in college. Even the names of the courses failed to make sense to me. What the heck is "Discrete Mathematics" anyway? Now he's ruined for basic math and can't figure out the stuff for everyday life.