1050: Forgot Algebra

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Forgot Algebra
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.
Title 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.


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This comic is pretty well explained in the caption and the image text, but I'll extrapolate a little bit. Here we have two ex-students taunting their old Algebra teacher because they have never used Algebra since they left (I'll assume) middle or high school.

Randall's argument here is that what part of your schooling that you use after you get out of school is all optional and up to you. Lots of people use math after they graduate, lots of people use their music lessons, etc. Lots of people don't use anything they learned in school in "real life".

The student also appears to be committing a logical error in that she assumes her math classes only taught her how to solve orderly lists of parameters ending with "Solve for x." Many everyday tasks involve basic mathematical calculations, but we are left to devise our own calculations. For example, to turn one's apartment into a ball pit, one must calculate or at least estimate (another skill learned in math class) the floor space of the room, the desired depth for the balls to cover, the space occupied by one crate of balls, and the cost of such a crate. While the operations are basic arithmetic, the ability to recognize unknowns and sort them into a meaningful statement comes from algebra.


[An algebra teacher by the name of Miss Lenhart, a former student, and a bystander. Miss Lenhart is walking away while the former student shouts at her the following:]
Former Student: Hey, Miss Lenhart! I forgot everything about algebra the moment I graduated, and in 20 years no one has needed me to solve anything for x. I told you I'd never use it! In your face!
It's weird how proud people are of not learning math when the same arguments apply to learning to play music, cook, or speak a foreign language.

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Actually, I always use Megan's argument whenever I'm in World History Class.--Jimmy C (talk) 21:34, 14 November 2012 (UTC)

Yes, because what intelligent people did in the past when faced with complex decisions can have NO bearing on anything in my own life. 08:17, 10 January 2014 (UTC)

It allways seems strange to me that there are places in the world where preparing your own meals is not an everyday task to most people. Living in Norway it just seems extremely decadent! 20:44, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

I don't think that by "learning to cook" he means to prepare food, but to do it well and to enjoy it. Many people can prepare very limited food, causing them to not enjoy cooking and to believe that they cannot cook. Theo (talk) 21:06, 30 August 2013 (UTC)
No, he meant "learning to cook". We learn math, not necessarily so we can enjoy it but so that we can function as a modern human being. You don't have to enjoy cooking, but by god's sake you should at least learn the basics. We can't all be generation Y, you know; things would cease to function. 08:17, 10 January 2014 (UTC)

Fortunately for mathophiles, it appears that this sentiment fades with age. In an August 2013 Gallup survey of American adults, respondents were asked which school subject they considered most valuable in their daily lives, and Math took the top spot. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/09/math_viewed_as_most_valuable_s.html Frijole (talk) 23:39, 10 September 2013 (UTC)

A google search of "when am I ever going to use X?" reveals that "math" and "algebra" get tens of thousands of hits, physics gets hundreds, while just about everything else is under 100. I think the extreme dislike of math (edweek survey notwithstanding, and probably self-serving) is in a different league from what others have discussed here. The explanation should reflect. Jd2718 (talk) 03:16, 16 September 2013 (UTC)

It was a Gallup survey, and how can the choice of "math" be self-serving anyway?? It is an educational journal, for pete's sake! The only choices were school subjects.
My own reasoning is that people have an unnatural fear of math simply because it *is* a pure science, it *is* abstract. The idiotic thing is that people use math all the time, they just don't call it that. Trying to work out how many drinks you can buy and still have cab fare? Algebra, b*tches! 08:17, 10 January 2014 (UTC)

Counterpoint: Unlike music and foreign language, math is a required course throughout school, which must be infuriating for those who struggle with it. My belief for what are currently the core classes is that students should be taught the material that will help them "in real life" and in a variety of jobs, and probably a bit of extra knowledge beyond that; but the much more complex and abstract topics should be optional. ~AgentMuffin