For the Love of Algebra

Image result for algebra

Algebra is the sloppy Judas-kiss that is planted on the mouth of every middle-school math student. You’ve learned the numbers… all of them. You can add them, multiply them, subtract them and, on rare occasions, you can even do long division. So, what is the response of educators? “Feeling smug knowing all the numbers? Well, we’ll just add ALL TWENTY-SIX LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET. You might know what two plus two is; but, God help you, you’ll be two years in trying to figure out what b + b is”. This is just plain mean.

In all fairness, though, educators try to encourage students by showing them how to apply this new knowledge. Because who hasn’t had a situation where your friend’s sister is two years older than twice your friend’s age when you were six? Or, even better…

Bob leaves Chicago traveling southwest at an average velocity of forty-five miles per hour. Jim leaves St. Louis traveling northeast at an average velocity of sixty miles per hour. Before leaving, Bob took a big handful of dog barbiturates that the vet prescribed for his dog’s seizures but Bob’s dog died before he could use the entire jar and who among us wants to waste perfectly good dog barbiturates? Long story short, Bob needs a ride home back to Chicago and Jim sure as HELL isn’t going to do it…

The above is what we call in mathematics a “word problem”… in that it is comprised of Image result for barbiturateswords and it is definitely a problem. Lugging an adult male who’s drugged like that is like dragging a dead horse up a freshly mown hill. Don’t ask me how I know that until the statute of limitations has expired. I’d let Bob fend for himself if he wasn’t my sister’s kid… but I digress… and then some!

Algebra lies to us. It pretends that we can explicitly solve any equation with unknowns; but, as you move into advanced mathematics, you learn that there is an infinite number of equations that cannot be solved; on the other hand, there is an infinite number of equations that can… it’s just that the previous infinite is a LOT more infinite than the second infinite. Are both “countably infinite”? If you have to ask, you probably already know…

In higher algebras, you learn how to prove that you cannot do things… like solve certain equations, trisect an angle with a protractor and compass and get to your nephew’s intervention because of work and all. So, rather than open up a whole new world like other mathematical branches, algebra restricts us more. In that regard, it makes us feel a little safer. We start to take algebra for granted and don’t pay it the attention that we used to. We stay out a little later each night, doing shots with harmonic equations and differential equations, while algebra waits patiently at home for us to come back and solve for HER unknowns. But, after her betrayal, can any of us really ever forgive?

31 thoughts on “For the Love of Algebra

  1. Having been a maths teacher in my time (admittedly one who was barely qualified to do the job) I have oft been asked by students “when will I ever use algebra sir? (I may be imagining the ‘sir’ bit as I’m not sure any of my students ever showed me that much respect, nor should they have). My response would be to be pause and then sagely advise them that they would definitely need algebra to pass their maths exam. And that was genuinely all I could come up with…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, if you go into engineering… as I ended up doing, you use it every single day. That and trigonometry. Now though, if you have what amounts to an algebra problem, there’s probably an app for that…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Back when I was in graduate school, I was getting ready to return a take-home test for my advanced algebra class. My wife looked at the ten page set of answers and told me that she couldn’t find a number in the entire test. It gets pretty abstract…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. People have a lot to say about this one! I have a math brain as well – I have NO IDEA why the heck I decided to go into counseling. And I don’t see math in my future unless I am helping the kids with their homework. I think “school bus driver” or “shelf stocker” may be on the horizon. (And that is quite a word problem up there – made me smile 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

      1. List — I mean LIKE (clicking “Like” after comments still doesn’t like me — if it doesn’t start working soon, I’m going to report it to the proper authorities, if I can find any).

        Liked by 1 person

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