1050: "Forgot Algebra"

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Dinoguy1000
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1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Dinoguy1000 » Wed May 02, 2012 4:14 am UTC

Image
Alt text: The only things you HAVE to know are how to make enough of a living to stay alive and how to get your taxes done. All the fun parts of life are optional.

I've seen this same observation elsewhere somewhat recently, but can't remember where.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby rhomboidal » Wed May 02, 2012 4:18 am UTC

I remember solving for x several times while doing my taxes. And hoping that the IRS agent who handled my return neglected their own math education in school.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby barasawa » Wed May 02, 2012 4:28 am UTC

I've had to use it numerous times... Maybe even X times. :D

As to other people, I was in the local college one day by the testing area and I heard a lady complaining, "How'd you expect me to pass a test for Math 10? I've been out of school for almost 8 months now!"
I didn't my best to not laugh or look utterly astonished as I quickly left the building. (And yes, it was for Math TEN.)

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby CorruptUser » Wed May 02, 2012 4:29 am UTC

I have to solve for X all the time. The hardest part is often figuring out what the X is that I'm solving for.

Then again, I'm training as an actuary.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby W_A » Wed May 02, 2012 4:40 am UTC

I think that never having to use basic math has more to do with you messing up than the school system.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Noslo » Wed May 02, 2012 4:48 am UTC

"Why do they make us learn math? It's not like I'll ever use it."
"Yeah, it's not like math teaches you how to work out complex problems logically."
This conversation happens quite often.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Quicksilver » Wed May 02, 2012 4:52 am UTC

Forgotten Algebra? I've forgotten most of my teachers since I left High School. That's something I am proud of.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Dr_Revels » Wed May 02, 2012 4:56 am UTC

I accompanied my fiance to a meet up with some high school friends she hadn't seen in 17 years, and this exact sentiment arose in the course of their reminiscing. She turned to me and said, "can you think of any time you have had to use algebra since high school?", but wasn't amused when I answered back, "yes, daily".

If context matters at all, my fiancee is a pediatrician and the other members of the table were a baker, a psychologist and a university administrator. I am a medical student.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Alex-J » Wed May 02, 2012 4:58 am UTC

Course, many of the kids who whine about learning math are also the ones who do whine about foreign language and fine arts (and school in general).

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby gregdafro » Wed May 02, 2012 5:09 am UTC

Unfortunately math in American public schools isn't taught as something fun or exploratory, but instead rigidly ruled or detailed because that's what teachers/schools look for. Putting a "relevant" picture of a roller coaster on a math textbook doesn't magically make it fun or engaging.

Also there are amazing self-deprecating and racist beliefs about the capacity of American children to do math in comparison to the rest of the world that significantly holds us back.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Smark » Wed May 02, 2012 5:10 am UTC

I think a huge part of this is that people don't realize that they can be using basic algebra to figure stuff out. Hell, most are probably doing basic stuff in their heads.

For instance I use it a lot when I'm doing cost analysis for buying in bulk or buying just-in-time. I find it's incredibly useful for every-day stuff. I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I know I write down something in equation form and solve for x (read: Wolfram|Alpha it) on a weekly basis. Granted I've never found a daily use for trig or anything above that. I remember reading somewhere that people with extremely high level math education (Graduate programs) tend to think of almost any problem as a math equation, and usually solve it as such.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Linux0s » Wed May 02, 2012 5:14 am UTC

Everyone knows that x = porn

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Me321 » Wed May 02, 2012 5:19 am UTC

I can see it now, 1st grade "survival 101" 2nd grade "How to file taxes" 3rd-12th grade "All the fun stuff"

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby ECK138 » Wed May 02, 2012 5:22 am UTC

Student: "I hate story problems."
Teacher: "Life is just a bunch of story problems."

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Eternal Density » Wed May 02, 2012 5:32 am UTC

Software engineer here. Being able to solve for x is definitely one of the things that is 'among my weaponry'. And yes, I did write that in such a convoluted way solely to make a Monty Python reference.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Wooloomooloo » Wed May 02, 2012 5:36 am UTC

Well, to be fair, I can't remember using any sort of x-solving (past elementary +/-/x/%/etc. operations and single-first-degree-x linear stuff) in something like twenty years out of school. No x-squares, no logarithms, no complex numbers, matrix operations, integrating along a curve, or solving differential equations. Considering how much grief all those caused and that I can't possibly solve even a x2+x+1 without aid today, I choose to remain highly suspicious of actually needing to pretend to learn all that (and yes I'm a techie - everything I've designed seems to work just fine so far).

And no offense to Randall, but those of us who found math definitely no "fun" whatsoever had to (pretend to) learn it too...

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby jschwartzbeck » Wed May 02, 2012 5:42 am UTC

looks like randall also noticed jimmy kimmel's joke at the white house the other day. i wonder where society would be if pop culture actually embraced things like science and math.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Locoluis » Wed May 02, 2012 5:44 am UTC

The problem is that there are many ways to earn money for a living. Many jobs that require specific skills.

For example, I'm a computer programmer, and so I have to solve Math problems all the time. In fact, besides this, the specific knowledge that my field requires, and being literate in Spanish (as native language) and English (as technical language), most of the knowledge I learned in High School is of no use in the workplace, although it has found some use elsewhere.

However, it's of my understanding that few people under 18 have any clue on what they're going to do for a living. I knew my path all the time since I finished Elementary School, yet many people find themselves in the wrong career at University.

There can only be so many possible flavors of High School. Some countries offer the option to combine High School with some sort of basic Technical Education, but in the end it all comes to this:

Pretty much universally:
- Math
- Native language
- a Foreign language
- History

Other subjects:
- Science (Biology, Physics, Chemistry)
- Basic Technology
- Arts (Visual, Music)
- Physical Education
- Something else (Home Economics, Philosophy, Social Studies, Creative Writing, Computers, Technical Education...)

None of the above will, of course, give you a job. They're just the building blocks, the basic knowledge you need in order to start learning a career. Or so they say.

Also, I disagree with the Alt text. Not all of Education should be just to allow people to be able to earn a living and pay their taxes. Few people nowadays appreciate the value of being cultured and knowledgeable, and that's something no school will give to you.

They just want the easy way, they want to "cut to the chase". Yet, when they actually get there, they wish they actually learned something in High School. Clearly the girl in today's XKCD has never been in such need in 20 years.

Something I find rather unrealististic.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby WolfieMario » Wed May 02, 2012 5:48 am UTC

Hmm...
Years since I graduated = current year - year I graduated
or
Years since I graduated = my current age - age I was when I graduated

Either way, x = a - b... So I'm afraid she broke that 20-year streak just by figuring out how long it has been :lol:
Kinda like chopping down a tree to figure out how long it's lived.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby jschwartzbeck » Wed May 02, 2012 5:55 am UTC

also.. while algebra may not be the most interesting or thought provoking of subjects, number theory absolutely blows my mind. i almost wish highschools would find a way to incorporate number theory into their curriculum. not only does it show you some extremely interesting features of the numbers around us but you also learn how to argue and prove ideas logically.

you know what, screw math, science, history and literature. if our schools simply taught people how to think rationally and logically i think society might be in much better shape.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby babble » Wed May 02, 2012 5:56 am UTC

This comic is a troll, right? Like, a massive straw man troll on the whole world? Which is cool, just checking. Because then although I really really want to spend time defending people who aren't good at maths, or didn't enjoy maths, or have jobs that don't involve very much (if any) maths, but at the same time do understand that they use arithmetic when going to the shops - if I spend time doing that then I'm feeding the troll, aren't I.

I speak French most days in my job; I use Latin and Greek quite a lot; spend more time using skills learned in history and literature subjects at school. I'm dyscalcular (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyscalculia) - coping with numbers is really difficult for me. Despite that I admire people who are good at maths, even though I literally can't (not won't) understand much more than very basic stuff. I see the value of it, even. I understand that skills learnt in school are used in life, even though we might forget that from time to time.

And so yeah, I'm a little bit tired of being characterised as some kind of anti-maths snob who disparages it because she doesn't understand it. Just like many scientists must be fed up with being characterised as philistines who don't appreciate literature or music - often by people who say things like 'unsuitable for liberal arts majors'. This comic really does come across as an unholy mess of snobbery. All people who aren't good at maths are snobs who disparage those who are AND this comic is too clever for the former?

I know xkcd is aimed at maths and science people. that's cool. but it's also self-designated as being about three things that aren't maths and only one thing that is, plus, everyone in the bloody world is always linking to it/forwarding it/discussing it so I think it's appropriate to feel butthurt when it trolls people.

oops. looks like I fed the troll.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Sasha S » Wed May 02, 2012 6:10 am UTC

Agreed. It's kind of snobby, but I guess it's his right, it's his comic.

That said, I work at an electronic game studio as a designer. I get the fun job, deciding how the game will -be-, and I'm a theater major. The people who know math? They're programmers. Couldn't do a thing without them, but I'm still glad I'm where I'm at, doing what I do, and don't regret for a second taking European History instead of calculus. Takes all kinds to make a world ... and it even takes those of us who have no real interest in mathematics ... some of us even help create fun video games for you, from time to time.

-Sasha

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby da Doctah » Wed May 02, 2012 6:13 am UTC

I'm just thinking about all that stuff I struggled hardest to learn, and how useful those things have turned out to be:

Riding a bicycle - has come in handy maybe three times.

Diving - never managed to master this one, and as luck would have it it's never come up since.

Touch typing - still using it every day.

Operating a slide rule - needed it on at least a weekly basis until about 1977; since then, zilch.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Your.Master » Wed May 02, 2012 6:22 am UTC

This is one of those comics that makes me wonder if I'm living in an alternate universe.

I have heard the same arguments against music, speaking a foreign language, etc.. i kind of think math got it relatively light compared to some other subjects.

As for cooking, I have to assume the comic means something else. Because I really don't think the same argument applies to cooking at all. Virtually everybody cooks at some time or another. Maybe not skillfully, but they do it.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby gormster » Wed May 02, 2012 6:25 am UTC

I swear I don't know what careers don't inevitably involve algebra in some fashion. Algebra is like... I don't even know how you do maths that doesn't have algebra. If you have a problem that needs maths to solve it, algebra is basically inevitable. I guess entry-level jobs in industries like delivery or retail don't involve it, but man, did you stick to that job for twenty years?
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby ijuin » Wed May 02, 2012 6:26 am UTC

Never use algebra, huh? Ok, let's say that you are buying bread (or anything else) at the market. Each loaf costs $1.99. How much will three loaves cost? The point of algebra is that you don't need to know the $1.99/loaf part in advance, but can solve the value for all possible prices at once, and then just drop in the price when you know it.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Arariel » Wed May 02, 2012 6:31 am UTC

babble wrote:This comic is a troll, right? Like, a massive straw man troll on the whole world? Which is cool, just checking. Because then although I really really want to spend time defending people who aren't good at maths, or didn't enjoy maths, or have jobs that don't involve very much (if any) maths, but at the same time do understand that they use arithmetic when going to the shops - if I spend time doing that then I'm feeding the troll, aren't I.

I speak French most days in my job; I use Latin and Greek quite a lot; spend more time using skills learned in history and literature subjects at school. I'm dyscalcular (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyscalculia) - coping with numbers is really difficult for me. Despite that I admire people who are good at maths, even though I literally can't (not won't) understand much more than very basic stuff. I see the value of it, even. I understand that skills learnt in school are used in life, even though we might forget that from time to time.

And so yeah, I'm a little bit tired of being characterised as some kind of anti-maths snob who disparages it because she doesn't understand it. Just like many scientists must be fed up with being characterised as philistines who don't appreciate literature or music - often by people who say things like 'unsuitable for liberal arts majors'. This comic really does come across as an unholy mess of snobbery. All people who aren't good at maths are snobs who disparage those who are AND this comic is too clever for the former?

I know xkcd is aimed at maths and science people. that's cool. but it's also self-designated as being about three things that aren't maths and only one thing that is, plus, everyone in the bloody world is always linking to it/forwarding it/discussing it so I think it's appropriate to feel butthurt when it trolls people.

oops. looks like I fed the troll.


I don't think this is so much criticizing people who are bad at maths, but merely people who are wilfully and deliberately ignorant about maths.

Speaking of which, anyone here read Maddox's post on maths?

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Marlayna » Wed May 02, 2012 6:37 am UTC

Your.Master wrote:This is one of those comics that makes me wonder if I'm living in an alternate universe.

I have heard the same arguments against music, speaking a foreign language, etc.. i kind of think math got it relatively light compared to some other subjects.

As for cooking, I have to assume the comic means something else. Because I really don't think the same argument applies to cooking at all. Virtually everybody cooks at some time or another. Maybe not skillfully, but they do it.


QFT

Why am I supposed to disagree with the student who's complaining about being forced to learn something she never intended to use?

And as for the "you use math every day" argument - no we don't... except for elementary school stuff. Unless your chosen profession involves math, when was the last time you had to take a logarithm, or solve a system of linear equations, or use a trigonometric identity?

(And of course, cooking is a necessary skill. You have to eat, don't you?)
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Scha » Wed May 02, 2012 6:48 am UTC

Ohh the irony.

Two minutes before reading xkcd, I read an article about a 145 inch TV. I then spent the two minutes trying to remember algebra so I could figure out how tall that TV would be, and if it would fit through my door.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Magnanimous » Wed May 02, 2012 7:08 am UTC

This reminds me of the "math" tag on tumblr. It's about 10% interesting math things, 40% repetitive/stupid math jokes, and 50% students whining about homework.
Arariel wrote:Speaking of which, anyone here read Maddox's post on maths?

I was just about to post it. And it's awesome, if not blunt.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Lunar Savage » Wed May 02, 2012 7:11 am UTC

Actually, the only things we have to do in life is take our first breath and take our last, and even then, sometimes they're one and the same. :/

Everything is optional.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby wst » Wed May 02, 2012 7:15 am UTC

Marlayna wrote:And as for the "you use math every day" argument - no we don't... except for elementary school stuff. Unless your chosen profession involves math, when was the last time you had to take a logarithm, or solve a system of linear equations, or use a trigonometric identity?
Well, strictly speaking, we do. We just don't always put it on paper. When I drive, you could take my inputs to the vehicle, take what the vehicle is doing, and make graphs out of it, and then do maths to that. When I brake for a red light I'm figuring out how hard I have to press the pedal, when I should press it, how long I should press it, and how rapidly I should press it (I don't go from 0% to 80% applied instantly I am not a robot). There's maths for that, but I am doing it in my head.

But then again, I am doing maths to drive about the same as I am doing chemistry to stay alive.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Invertin » Wed May 02, 2012 7:23 am UTC

I acknowledge the fact that math is an incredibly useful subject, but I also know that I haven't used any in my day to day life.

Then again I might have dyscalculia so there you go.

The same sort of argument could be applied in regards to history, since I don't really plan on being a historian, but analyzing different views on an event and investigating the authors to ensure that I have the correct information? That's like, the entire internet.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby theGoldenCalf; » Wed May 02, 2012 7:34 am UTC

Sadly, music and cooking weren't forced on me all through high school to a level I will never need to know (ignoring CS studies which also forced outrageously high level algebra not necessary for understanding of the field). The foreign language studies were much more played down. So no, some "fun" parts of life are definitely not optional.

Fuck I hate algebra so much.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby wassholm » Wed May 02, 2012 7:39 am UTC

I agree with the student on this one, as it seems obvious that miss Lenhart were unable to communicate to her students why learning maths is important, which, one could argue, was her most important task. Had she succeeded there, most of them would probably have learned math anyway, even if they hadn't learned it from her.

I don't really know the laws regarding this in the US, but here in Sweden attending 9 years of school is mandatory, meaning you actually legally HAVE to go to school and have someone try to teach you math. If that person then, as is the case far too often, has no better an argument to present as to WHY one should learn what's being taught than "It's the law", I say no wonder people spend more time trying to forget maths, then trying to learn it.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby thetrivialstuff » Wed May 02, 2012 7:41 am UTC

Marlayna wrote:And as for the "you use math every day" argument - no we don't... except for elementary school stuff.


Arg! This attitude bothers me so much. There are *so* many places where you could use higher maths in ways that have a direct impact on your life.

Unless your chosen profession involves math, when was the last time you had to take a logarithm


Mortgage calculations are probably the biggest one. I realize this doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it could make tens, possibly even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of difference to your life over a period of many, many years. If you forgot calculus and natural logs, you are going to get screwed on your mortgage and you won't even understand how. The funny thing is that most people trying to sell you mortgages have *also* forgotten their basic calculus -- I went with my parents once to renegotiate theirs, and the lady behind the desk was using fixed tables and a "rule of 72" chart of some kind, and was flabbergasted when I laughed and wrote out the actual formula for her bank's compound interest rules.

But there are lots of other things that have exponential growth patterns, too.

or solve a system of linear equations


Taxes. In Canada, a lot of the various benefits and credits are linear systems, and if you can solve them, the "sweet spot" of where to put your various expenses and how much to claim for certain credits just "falls out" of the equations. This can get you a lot of money back, especially if your income is near the poverty line (where a lot of the targeted credits are).

Pretty sure linear systems come up in inventory & pricing, and when you're buying in a store that has qualifiers like "this week buy the first 3 for $1.99 each" or "buy 4 or more and get discounts, up to a maximum of 12."

or use a trigonometric identity?


I use these when navigating, or trying to figure out where I am (and yeah, just when I'm out walking or hiking; not sailing or anything fancy). Also useful for judging the sizes of things or how far away they are, because you can make rough guesses at angles and work from that without having to make awkward or impossible measurements. And if you're a carpenter or are ever trying to build something, well, it goes without saying that you use trig identities.

If you get a decent gut feel for trig, it's also a safety boon: You can guess at the most effective way to get out of a dangerous situation in traffic, for instance. (So often in movies you see really bad errors in this -- the protagonist running "away" when someone is trying to run him down with a car, instead of running on a perpendicular course, or an angle that'll maximize the distance until he gets to safety.)

One other one I used recently was probability theory -- which, combined with rational thinking, saved me a good 25% on car insurance.

The more math you know, the more math you can use. There might be some completely useless math somewhere, but I have yet to encounter any so far.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby johnny_7713 » Wed May 02, 2012 7:43 am UTC

Invertin wrote:I acknowledge the fact that math is an incredibly useful subject, but I also know that I haven't used any in my day to day life.

Then again I might have dyscalculia so there you go.

The same sort of argument could be applied in regards to history, since I don't really plan on being a historian, but analyzing different views on an event and investigating the authors to ensure that I have the correct information? That's like, the entire internet.


You've never worked out how long you will have to save up to be able to buy that new car/computer/holiday/other expensive thing? You've never worked out how much money you will have left over after tax? You've never worked out how much tax you will have to pay? You've never worked out how much the monthly interest payment on a loan or mortgage is? You've worked out how much extra that 3% wage raise will give you at the end of the month?

Moving on to more basic arithmetic rather than math: You've never added up what your shopping will total before you've reached the check-out? You've never split a restaurant bill? You've never converted a stated monthly wage into an annual wage or vice versa?
The list goes on.
Dyscalculia might make all that a lot harder, but I can't imagine you've never done at least some of those things, or at least wanted to do them.

Regarding wst's argument I'm going to disagree. I don't do any math when driving a car, I do it by feel, visual feedback and muscle memory, as I'm sure does (nearly?) everyone. Sure there's all kinds of maths that can describe your driving, but you're not doing them while driving, any more than a tennis ball is solving a bunch of differential equations to work out where it should bounce.

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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby The Moomin » Wed May 02, 2012 7:49 am UTC

The difference is that people don't hammer in to your head how essential it is you learn the violin, bake a cake or learn how to ask for a train ticket in Polish. Throughout learning maths you are told repeatedly how important it is to your survival in day to day life.

That's why no-one runs up to primary school teachers to shove in their face how they've never picked up a recorder since the music classes when they were 8.
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Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Magnanimous » Wed May 02, 2012 7:50 am UTC

Marlayna wrote:Why am I supposed to disagree with the student who's complaining about being forced to learn something she never intended to use?

And as for the "you use math every day" argument - no we don't... except for elementary school stuff. Unless your chosen profession involves math, when was the last time you had to take a logarithm, or solve a system of linear equations, or use a trigonometric identity?

This is why many mathematicians want reform of math education... the useful things are being buried under calculations. It is much more important for people to understand concepts: People don't really need to know how to calculate a logarithm--any computer can do that--but they should have an idea of why logarithms are important.

Thanks to school, people think that "using math" is making calculations and ending up with an answer. In practical terms, it's more like knowing when someone is deceiving you with technically-true statistics, what a billion dollars actually means, how unintuitively common coincidences are, anything about Bayesian reasoning, et cetera. If people actually understood math instead of understanding calculations, we wouldn't have astrology or ESP or conspiracy theories (wishful thinking), and people wouldn't lose their shit when a sports player does something statistically unlikely.

Links ahoy!

Netreker0
Posts: 145
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2011 8:17 am UTC

Re: 1050: "Forgot Algebra"

Postby Netreker0 » Wed May 02, 2012 7:51 am UTC

Noslo wrote:"Why do they make us learn math? It's not like I'll ever use it."
"Yeah, it's not like math teaches you how to work out complex problems logically."
This conversation happens quite often.


This is entirely speculation based on anecdotal evidence and random assumptions,
but I imagine that this conversation, and all those people in the Ayn Rand thread
who seem to perceive every other post as a personal attack, are related phenomena,
both involve people who had a math deficiency as kids.


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