“In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra. ”

The weather today is perfect. The morning is cool, the sun bright, a breeze stirs the air and the sky is brilliant blue with just a few clouds, small and wispy. It is a read on the deck day. I have a new book, and my dance card is empty.

I remember learning about coins. It was a kind of neat when I realized that a nickel was the same as five pennies and the dime was 2 nickels or ten pennies. I gave up the notion that the bigger coin, the nickel, was worth more based on its size. The worksheets had pictures of groups of coins and two different kinds of work problems using the pictures. The first sort of problem was to figure which coins to use to reach a given amount of money and the second was to add up the coins and figure how much they were worth together. I did all the problems, even the ones with quarters, though I seldom had a quarter, a rare amount of money for any kid in those days, the days when pennies had value.

One year we learned Roman numerals and did math problems using them. Mostly we added and subtracted. It was fun to learn ancient numbers though I never expected to need the skill, this recognition of V or X or D, but Roman numerals have never disappeared and pop up in the unlikeliest of places. Luckily I can still translate the numerals because every Super Bowl has a Roman numeral designation. I went looking and found out why: because the playoffs occur in a different calendar year than the regular season, the league can’t have the Super Bowl identified by year, like the NBA Finals or World Series. It’d be too confusing. For example, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014 but are the champions of the 2013 season. It’s easier to say the team won Super Bowl XLVIII, but there is now a glitch. For Super Blow L in 2016 they are ditching the L for the equivalent 5o because the NFL thinks the L by itself would be too confusing for the average person. The next year, though, we’ll go back to the tradition for Super Bowl LI. I guess average people understand two numbers.

A totally useless skill I learned was how to read and notate Gregorian chant. I liked making and coloring in the square boxes, but I have had no occasion to use it since.

Algebra, though, still remains two years of wasted time. Why I had to take algebra at all or even worse Algebra 2 or II is one of life’s mysteries. I haven’t ever used it. I know it has applications. I even found descriptions of a few. At the playground if you knew the weight of a person at the top of the slide and you knew the height of the slide you could roughly calculate how fast you would be traveling as you exited the bottom of the slide. Why would I care? What if the slide is sticky as some are? Then there’s dropping a rock off the roof of a house and wondering how long would it take to hit the ground. If you didn’t get caught climbing on the roof and somehow dropped a second rock 100 times as heavy off of the same roof of the same house, how long would it take to hit the ground? Then there’s the never going to happen part of the application which is used mostly for effect: If you somehow brought a bulldozer up to the roof of the house and dropped it, how long would it take for the bulldozer to hit the ground? Now you get to use your algebra and you’ll have the answer in no time.

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21 Comments on ““In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra. ””

  1. im6 Says:

    Radiohead? Kate Bush? You can’t dance to them. If you’re gonna do math, you need to be able to dance!

  2. olof1 Says:

    For some reason I really don’t understand I like algebra 🙂 but to be honest, I liked all math and still do.

    I’ve never understood how You count Your money 🙂 Now days we don’t have any smaller coin than the krona (crown) but before we had ören too and it was easy to count with those. One krone was one hundred ören which was a fortune and could give me lots of candy 🙂 A ten öring was as it says ten öre and so on.

    The Danish, really counts in a strange way even though they too have ören and krona. when they reach sixty they sort of counts three times twenty, so instead of saying sextio (sixty) as we Swedes do they say tres which measns three times twenty. Eighty is fjers (4 x 20) but seventy is halv fjers (half fjers) which doesn’t make sence at all 🙂 I mean it isn’t half of eighty is it 🙂 Most Swedes get very confused when shopping in Denmark 🙂 🙂 🙂 The French count in much the same way but that’s not surprising to anyone since they are French ;:-) 🙂 🙂

    Have a great day!
    Christer.

    • katry Says:

      Christer,
      I liked geometry because it was logical but searching for x or y wasn’t much fun. I really didn’t like math all that much.

      The money is easy. In one dollar the coins are 100 pennies or 20 nickels or 10 dimes or 4 quarters. Doing it by math means that each of the 4 quarters has 25 pennies to reach that dollar. Each nickel has 5 pennies x the 20 nickels also to reach the dollar. That makes it easy.

      When I traveled through Europe for weeks at a time, I would get to one country and have to learn the money then I’d travel to another and have to learn new money. It was quite confusing. Much as the euro makes it easier, I did like all the countries having their own money.

      Have a great evening!

  3. Birgit Says:

    Basic algebra is part of real life. If you care for prices shopping means basic algebra, percentages, rule of three. Estimating the duration of a ride needs basic physical laws and rule of three. And so on. For my tree cutting project I used Pythagoras and binomial formulas to estimate without calculator whether my 16 meter ropes are long enough. Call me crazy.

    • katry Says:

      Birgit,
      I never use it. For deciding worth in pricing and amounts of goods I just divide. I don’t think I have ever measured the length of a ride, and I let my landscaper cut down trees.

      I remember the Pythagorean theory because it was beaten into my head. As for binomial, it sounds vaguely familiar.

      I am not enamored by math other than the simple operations.

      Crazy-no but singular in my life: someone who uses algebra.

  4. im6 Says:

    You’re crazy, Birgit.

  5. Caryn Says:

    Hi Kat,
    I had a traumatic experience with Algebra 1. My teacher was from Estonia. He hated the students. He hated teaching. He was out the door every day before we were. He loved mathematics, though. When he got going on an algebraic thing, he would forget that we were there. His accent got very thick. In fact, I think he was speaking Estonian a lot of the time. One time I went back for clarification on something about which I though I had an inkling of understanding. He filled three blackboard panels with equations, turned to me at the end and asked if I understood. And he smirked. Um…sure, sure I did. Needless to say, the only students who passed his class were those who would have passed it on their own anyway.
    I did actually have an occasion to use an algebraic formula in a non-scholastic environment. It had something to do with how much material would be needed to make a skirt with a certain amount of flounce. I’m sure my Algebra teacher would have been proud. 🙂

    The lake was very breezy and cool this morning. The dogs loved it. My feet got very wet from the dewy grass. My car seats got very wet and dirty from the dewy dog feet.

    Enjoy the evening.

    • katry Says:

      Hi Caryn,
      That is horrible. Nothing is worse than a bad teacher, especially a math teacher. I was a great words student and a not so great numbers or x and y student. I had to work like crazy just to get a B. In college, my freshman you must take this math was from Cube. He spoke English almost well enough to understand him, but I always missed some of what he said. It was October before I realized he was saying zero.

      I’m impressed with your algebra real life usage!

      It got up to 72˚ today, but tonight is chilly. I had to shut the windows and front door.

      Have a great day tomorrow!

  6. Jay Bird Says:

    Much of high school math is a waste. Remnant of an obsolete educational system. I took Algebra and Geometry only because they were required for an NYS Regents diploma. Took algebra twice, in fact, having failed the first time around! The guidance people wouldn’t let me into trig, or calculus because they said (rightly) I had zero aptitude. Never took a day of math in college.

    But I earned two college degrees and had a long and successful career without ever solving an equation. High schools should offer “practical math” courses, like balancing checkbooks, computing taxes, investing strategies, loan and credit card management, national macro-economics, etc. Even a high school graduate should know, in general terms, what GDP means, or how the Federal budget and monetary systems work. That’s real-world math!

    Not everybody is meant to be an engineer.

    • katry Says:

      Jay,
      I had Algebra I and II and Geometry, and that’s where I chose to stop. Math was never a strong subject for me. I got B’s but struggled to get them. In college I had to take a math course. It was taught by Dr. Rolando who fled Cube because of Castro. He was a great teacher, but I was lost. I got a tutor and even went to him. The only test I passed was on odds as it was logical. He told me he’d pass me if I promised never to take math again. Easy promise. I got a D.

      I was an English major and had two minors: history and philosophy. I think all those subjects are about as far away from numbers as you can get.

      I agree about practical courses and the school where I worked used to have them, but the Common Core of Learning put an end to those types of courses. Kids have to pass the mandatory state testing and practical courses are not part of the testing.

      I have a friend who was a math teacher, a woman math teacher, and I have always been impressed.

  7. sprite Says:

    I think everyone got distracted by math and missed the most important part — that Gregorian chants have their own notation involving coloring in boxes and that you somehow are in possession of the knowledge of it.


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