When will you ever use algebra? 

As a math person, there is a question that I get asked incessantly.
And it’s this:

When will you ever use Algebra???
Ah, thank you Mr. Dewey!
If you are old like me, then when I say Dewey, you think of an antiquated card filing system from the library.
Different Dewey.
The one of whom I speak is the one that ruined education and is the reason you ask me this question. No one would have asked this question back when Benjamin Franklin was writing the constitution.
What is the point of learning something? Really? Ugh.
Typically I give them a brilliant, well thought out, perfectly configured explanation and then I get this response……
So I hesitate to even write this blog. But in the spirit of education…..I must.
So back to Dewey.
John Dewey single-handedly destroyed the idea that becoming an educated contributing member of society was enough of a reason to learn something. I am pretty sure he was the first person to ask, “Is this going to be on the test??” (major simplification, but seriously pretty close)
Fine. So you want to be all utilitarian on me? I’ll humor you.
Why study Algebra?
1. It pays! The top 15 (yes FIFTEEN) highest-earning college degrees all have one thing in common — math skills. That’s according to a 2009 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks college graduates’ job offers.
Check out how math compares with those other majors!!
MAJOR-SALARY DIFFERENTIAL
Mathematics + 37.5%
Economics +33.5%
Chemistry +22.8%
Foreign Langs +5.1%
Poli. Sci. +4.9%
History +0.9%
Biology +0.8%
English +0%
Psychology -4.40%
And then there is this handy “job satisfaction” chart…..but who wants to be satisfied with their job? Clearly not surgeons (#156, yikes)
JOB SATISFACTION RANKING
Mathematician 1
Actuary 2
Statistician 3
Biologist 4
Software Engineer 5
Economist 11
Physicist 13
Computer Programmer 18
Aerospace Engineer 33
Nuclear Engineer 41
Chemist 57
Electrical Engineer 62
Federal Judge 69
Civil Engineer 71
Mechanical Engineer 74
Attorney 82
Stockbroker 84
Senior Corporate Executive 88
Dentist 101
Surgeon 156

 

Why are we learning this?” you ask. How about so you can provide for your family? How about so you have a better chance at actually liking your job? Good enough reasons? Great! Are there other ways to provide for your family? Obviously yes. But when do we decide that? Second grade? Ok, you will be a realtor. No algebra for you. No. Of course not. Why limit yourself? Put in the hard work. Study like you mean it. And leave your options open. There are countless jobs that will look at your math success and be pretty impressed. Why? Because succeeding in math means that either you are pretty smart or you work really hard, or somewhere in between. Employers seem to like those qualities. There, algebra helped you.
2. Your brain needs algebra. While I will concede that you may not use “algebra” (insert Chris Farley air quotes here) in the sense that you are taking out a piece of paper and solving for x, every day, you are (hopefully) at the very least using algebra skills to make logical connections and solve problems daily. And just like any muscle….that part of your brain needs to be worked out. Would you ask a trainer at a gym “When am I ever going to need to do 50 lunges in my life?” 
No, that’s ridiculous. Of course you won’t be doing those exact movements. The point isn’t to be able to do lunges, the point is to work that muscle and get in optimum shape so that you can further your fitness goals and operate at peak physical capacity.
3. To know God and make Him known! If you are a Christian, then this alone is a reason to study math. God invented it, uses it, reveals Himself through it and on and on! Discoveries in math are so divinely designed that people once worshiped the creature rather than the creator and started worshiping numbers. On the other hand, I remember the first time I heard Chuck Missler, (mathematician/pastor) speak, it was as if I had heard the Bible in a way I never imagined possible. The marriage of mathematics and theology is nothing short of miraculous and beautiful! If you run from math, you will be missing out on knowing a part of God you can only learn about through studying that realm of His design. He is a math God people. Face it. 😉 When you study anything that He created and designed you will learn more about His principles and character and literally just be in awe! Oh yes, when you see how beautiful a proof comes together, you can’t deny the power of God! GP are you with me?
I can hear you now….
“Oh, so you think you are smarter/better/more logical than I am because you are good at math?”
Actually. Yes. That is exactly what I think.
What I mean is I just may be smarter than you in math.
And some of you are smarter/better/more knowledgeable in art/history/science/ or music. 
The reality is that learning is good for you. It makes you better. Period. Learn about something. Turn off the T.V. And pick up a book. Any book. Enrich your mind. Learn algebra. You will be better for it. Learn history. Lord knows someone needs to! Find out why the Crusades started for instance!  Learn about science. Real science. Not fake “It’s a baby if you want it to be” flat earther science. 
But for heaven’s sake, don’t ask a physical trainer, “When will I ever do lunges in real life?”
 And don’t ask a math teacher, “When will you ever use Algebra in real life.”
Because when you ask “Why did I need to learn algebra?” I would say, “Why not?” And for that matter why is no one asking “Why did I need to learn kickball?” or “Why did I need to memorize elements on the periodic table?” How many adults are using either of those skills on a daily basis?
Let’s get to the real issue.
Algebra can require a lot of practice, hard work, and firm foundation with facts.
So the real question is, “Why do I have to work hard when I don’t want to?” And this is what so many seem to struggle with these days. Why do I have to sacrifice my needs when I don’t want to? Why do I have to be kind when I don’t want to? Why do I have to humble myself when I don’t want to? Life is full of opportunities to work hard and show diligence in a challenging situation.
How will you respond?
Algebra teaches you to follow laws and absolute truths, even if you don’t fully understand them. Learning Algebra increases your ability to think logically and solve problems. This is proven. (see what I did there? Proof? Oh math humor!)
When people say, “I never use Algebra” what they are saying is:
I never find missing information.”
I never work through a problem logically”
I never follow rules and directions to complete a task.”
I never apply known information to find an unknown answer.”
Those are all skills sharpened and taught in algebra. For some people these skills come more naturally than others, but regardless of whether they are learned or not you are still using principles of algebra.
I know what else you are going to say:
“I am logical and smart, and I stink at algebra.”
 Ok. Let’s say that is true. 
I could say, “I am fit and in shape and I never do lunges.” Well, first of all, the premise may be debatable. Second of all, regardless of how smart or in shape I am, when you don’t exercise (brain or body) you will be less than what you could be.
This is just like when people say, “I don’t follow God, but I am a kind and loving person.”
The reality is that you are following the principles God has established whether you acknowledge Him or not. Similarly, you are applying the principles found in Algebra whether you acknowledge it or not.
So for this momentous occasion, this once in a life time “Pi Day” (3/14/15) that we are all celebrating……it is my one wish that people all over the world would stop asking the question…..at least for one day 🙂
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