Using Math in Everyday Circumstances

@LesleyChang: Should math be an elective in high school?

Lesley posed that question through Twitter the other day (remember to follow me too), because she feels that people “tend to do better when they’re not failing miserably at something.”

I can understand that sentiment, since so many people struggle with trigonometry, algebra, and calculus. I can also appreciate the fact that we probably grow the most as people when we focus on our strengths. While I understand her viewpoint, I wholeheartedly disagree. Math should definitely be a required course in high school.

It doesn’t really matter if math is your worst subject in school, because math is fundamental to our everyday existence. It is the one true universal language and I feel that mathematics cannot be demoted to an elective course during the early part of our education.

@LesleyChang: Does any of your HS math help you in any way as a writer now?

And this is the most common rebuttal. Why should we be learning something in school that seemingly has no practical application in the real world? Since you picked up your high school diploma, have you ever made use of the quadratic equation outside of an academic setting? While it may very well be true that you don’t need to use the quadratic equation in your day-to-day life, the underlying skills and concepts are very useful in everyday life.

What lies at the core of learning geometry? You have to be able to view things from different perspectives, twisting and turning three-dimensional objects in your mind’s eye. What lies at the core of algebra? You have to consider those equations logically, taking the different variables into account and getting them to fit with one another in a logical fashion. If it weren’t for this foundation in logic, I would not be able to use formulas in my Excel spreadsheet. If it weren’t for this learning, I would not be able to compute a logical rate sheet for my freelance writing business. So yes, I do use my high school math today.

For me, mathematics and English (or whatever is the official language in your country) are the two subjects that serve at the core of any high school education, particularly in grade 11 and 12. Perhaps a career preparation program should be included in there as well, but the other subjects can be more easily denoted as electives.

@LesleyChang: If that’s the case, then why aren’t core fundamentals of biology, physics, earth science, etc. not taught past gr10?

While biology, history, geography, and so on are surely important subjects that we should all take some time to learn, I don’t consider them to be core fundamental subjects that should be required beyond grade 10. If you choose to pursue a career remotely related to any of these subjects, then by all means, take these classes in school. However, English and mathematics are the two main core subjects, because they will permeate many aspects of everyone’s life.

Humans are social animals and we need to communicate with one another in an effective manner. That’s why English (or some other official language) is so important. That’s why you need good grammar. Without a foundation in English, you won’t be able to learn anything else.

Math is also very important to everyone. It’s there when you buy a pair of shoes, when you receive your paycheque, when you pay your bills, and when you split a dinner bill with your friends. The underlying logic of math has an even wider reach. Our lives are filled with if-then statements. You need logic to be an effective programmer, engineer, account executive, or plumber.

The core fundamentals of English and math are useful to all job hunters, regardless of profession or industry. Your resume needs to be grammatically correct and make logical sense, right?

Tune in tomorrow for part two…

UPDATE: Here is part two – But I Don’t Need William Shakespeare