With a tip of my cap to Paul Simon, when I look back at all the math I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can add at all. In school my favorite subject was math. It came easily to me. …
With a tip of my cap to Paul Simon, when I look back at all the math I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can add at all. In school my favorite subject was math. It came easily to me. Beginning in elementary school with simple addition and subtraction I easily grasped the rudimentary concepts.
Then came the memorization of multiplication tables. I cruised through tables quickly and then tackled long division. At some point geometry led to trigonometry, all handled expertly without the aid of a calculator.
High school introduced the math course that brought most students to their knees as visions of getting into an Ivy League school faded away. For some, the feelings of inadequacy began when you saw the title of your textbook “Introduction to Calculus.”
Then as you flipped through the pages, you saw symbols, lines and what looked like notes on sheet music arranged among actual numbers. At first you might have thought that you had mistakenly stumbled into “Hieroglyphics 101.” But even ancient Egyptians could not decipher this code.
According to noted mathematician and linguist Pithagoras T. Heorem, “You must approach higher mathematics the same way you learn a foreign language. If you do not use it often, your aptitude diminishes.” That is so true. I took three years of French in high school. At one time I could carry on a conversation. But ignoring it for a few decades the only expressions I remember are “La neige est belle aujourd’hui” and “J’aime les saucisses.” So, unless I want to eat a hot dog during a snowstorm in Paris, my limited knowledge of French is useless.
The same result happens in math. If you do not use it, you lose it. But I do remember some of the basic concepts of calculus. The two major functions are integrals and derivatives. I remembered the words but had to look them up to know what they meant.
According to “It All Adds Up,” a non-existent math text by Felix Numba, the derivation of a function is the rate of change of the function. The integral is the area under the curve of the function. What that means is, unless you work for NASA and are programming a mission to Uranus, calculus has no use in your life.
In fact, most of the math you learned in high school has no relevance to your existence. When the carpet installer comes to your living room do you think he’s trying to figure out the cosine of the tangent in relation to the location of the hypotenuse that luckily avoids hitting your flat screen television?
Instead of taking out his protractor, Steinhaus Longimeter and deferential analyzer, he uses a retractable tape measure to figure out that a room that is 12 X 15 feet needs 180 square feet of carpet. I used the 12 x 15 feet as an example because since carpet is sold by the yard it made the adjustment easier.
A quick phone call to my neighbor’s ten-year-old daughter told me that it converts to twenty square yards. That proves there is no need for complicated measuring devices or knowledge of advanced math as long as your neighbor’s daughter is not on the soccer field.
So, most of the math you learned after middle school is of little use besides getting good grades to get into college. In your adult life you only need to master addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Those functions come in handy daily.
With that knowledge you can balance your checkbook, figure out how many miles to the gallon you are getting in your car and how much tip to leave at dinner.
And to my faithful readers, earlier I used the word Uranus instead of another planet because the way we pronounced it in elementary school always made us laugh.
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