The Failure of High School Math

I have always been very poor at mathematics. I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, of course and I vaguely remember a few things about basic geometry, but overall I get all befuddled when it comes to even the simplest of complex equations (there’s an oxymoron for you!). In school I always excelled in conceptual studies: literature, art, even more literal things like science, history, and economics, but I failed Algebra. In fact, I failed it three times.

In my senior year, to make sure I would graduate, I had to take a “lower” math course to get the one credit I needed. I took Consumer Math and found myself in a classroom full of stoners, auto shop rejects, and kids with names like “Spike” and “Big Louie.” I was a somewhat brainy and rather nerdy kid in a remedial math class. It was going to be a long year.

You may remember a guidance counselor telling you that math was an important subject because you would need it all through your life. I didn’t buy that then when speaking about algebra and I still don’t now. I can honestly say that I have never needed to know at what point would the train leaving Phoenix traveling 120mph would pass the train leaving Chicago and traveling 150mph, not once. The “remedial” Consumer Math course, on the other hand, taught me some very important things.

• How to balance a checkbook
• How to complete a 1040 form
• How to budget income
• How interest is compounded

It turned out that the math class they sent the “special needs” kids to was the one that should be required for all students. I was sent off into the world armed with the knowledge I would need to get by while all the kids who knew how to do the calculations required in building atomic weapons were unable to balance their checkbooks. I’ve often wondered how many terrorist threats were averted because someone’s check for fissionable material bounced.

If you have children in high school, I recommend that you make them take a similar course. No matter how well they do in higher math, the lessons they’ll need in life are being taught to all of the auto shop kids and members of the football team. Let them in on it and put an accountant out of work.

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