# In my opinion: Math is too hard

Such a trite subject line doncha think?

After whimpering in frustration over my math work, I have to just rant.
I have to say that math is the most useless subjects ever known to man. My teacher, for example, has taught math for many years. He told us stories of countless students dropping his class, he even went as far as to say that many students have ran out of his classroom in tears. When he said that, I laughed to myself, but today I nearly cried over a math problem. I don’t consider myself smart, intelligent, or anything like that. But for only being 19, I do think of myself being slightly ‘ahead’ of the normal people my age. When I am doing math I feel like a toddler, it’s degrading, it feels like I am being slapped and reminded that I’m some stupid bafoon.

It wouldn’t be so bad if math had an actual application in real life, but it doesn’t. Yes, I might think mathematically, but requiring me to multiply the same number ad nauseam for no other purpose of just ‘knowing how’ is stupid. (Yes, that’s right. It’s stupid)

What bugs me the most is the math scholars at my campus. They hang these posters around the school which reads “You WILL need this some day” and lists 20 jobs out of a sea of thousands which requires the usage of mathematics beyond basic algebra. Granted, I want to be a Pharmacist, so I have to get to math 171 (and I’m at 105 and struggling) yet when I talked to a Pharmacist they told me that they don’t even use math beyond basic measurements! So what’s the point?

I’ve never heard of someone running out of an English class, Government, or even a Science (Non-Chem) class in tears. Yet I hear about it all the time when math is involved. IMO, there seems to be some misconception that only the ‘smart’ people can be good at mathematics. Then they have the nerve to base many IQ tests on mathematical skills as if math defines someone’s intelligence or capacity to learn. If it were up to me, math would be optional after basic algebra.

It appears to me that math scholars desperately pull at straws to justify this as a subject. I’m infuriated that I need to master calculus to be a Pharmacist when you don’t even need anything beyond metrical conversions for the job. It’s ridiculous, waste of money, your money (Government pays for my tuition), and waste of perfectly good Kleenex.

In all seriousness, is there anyone around who was really bad at math and now is good at it? I’m willing to try anything. Heh

Well, my boyfriend, who is currently a mechanical engineering major, uses math all the time in his work for classes. He has taken up to calc 3 and is generally good at math. However, he always tells me that I am much better at algebra than he is, go figure :o I used to hate math until he proved that I was better at algebra than he is Now, I don’t dislike it anymore. It may be 'cause I haven’t taken any math classes since last year. But I’m much more willing to try helping people with various math problems. Calculus is something that drove me to tears though, I feel your pain.

All I can say is, the school makes you do it, so try not to stress so much. And for pete’s sake, try getting some HELP! If you are so frustrated you have tears in your eyes, go on to the next problem and get HELP! There is usally a math help center at colleges, try there. Ask your friends if they can help you, or if they know anyone. There are lots of people out there who know what they’re doing. Please, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Math is evil

With that said, I’ll tell you my story. I hate math. I hate it worse that being force fed sardines while tied to a chair infront of a TV playing Jerry Lewis tapes. In college I was a Computer Information Systems major…I chose this because it took less math than Computer Science. I knew in highschool…I hated math. I always got B’s and C’s in highschool math, but I knew college math would surely beat me like its bitch, and it did. I made it through pre-calculus…barely. But calculus is where my luck stopped. I was going no further in my math carreer. I had to change my major to english…which I could not get any classes for…and then I had to drop out. I’m going back to school in a few months…but its a technical school…no math. I had always gotten A’s in my computer classes…but yet…because I can;t take calculus, I’m not fit to hold a degree in it. So I deffinately feel your pain. And I hope you are comforted by the fact that …yes there is more out there that hate math just as much as you do.

Understanding how good or bad the stats are, that are used to sell ideas to you, is a necessity for citizenship these days. Not too many people need calculus, but in a perfect world, IMO, all voters would have a basic understanding of statistics - mean, median, standard deviation, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing, correlation and regression, margin of error, stuff like that.

Having taught (many times) the freshman stats class that covers such things, my observation is that most college students can get the hang of those ideas fairly easily, even if they didn’t have the world’s most brilliant teacher, which I wasn’t. My belief is that if you took the same course and spread it out over a year, most high school juniors and seniors who’d done reasonably well in algebra could master statistics at that level.

Perhaps the math is necessary for the chemistry classes you will need to take to be a pharmacist. (I think chemistry can be worse than math, but that’s just my opinion.) My guess, though, is that mathematics is generally used as a “weed-out”. Wouldn’t everyone go for such higher-paying fields as engineering and computer science if calculus were not required for the major? Who would be left for the liberal arts colleges?

I knew calculus was not for me (heck, the quadratic equation in algebra was not for me), so I took statistics for my math requirement (in liberal arts, you can do that :).) Hard, but certainly not impossible. And, while I don’t actually calculate statistics on a regular basis, I certainly see statistics used all around me. Knowing how statistics is done has made me a better-educated media consumer. I can’t see how not knowing calculus has harmed me in any way. Heck, my husband is a mechanical engineer, he struggled through all that calculus, and he says that in his current job, he never uses it.

I’m a math lover. I can’t help it. I also use high-falutin’ math every day on my job (Director of Technology Applications). To me, it seems reasonable to learn math. I used to sit outside the window of the high school algebra classes when I walked home from grammar school to listen in – it was a lot more interesting than what we were doing in the sixth grade.

On the other hand, I can appreciate how hard this can be if your mind doesn’t work that way. Mrs. Cal is not comfortable with heavy math, although she had to slog through quite a bit for her degree. (Mrs. Cal is good at, and likes, geometry, however. Is there some sort of cultural or sex-linked mechanism between otherwise math-phobic women and geometry?)I sometimes read math books in bed, for fun. This drives Mrs. Cal nuts.

First of all, I am thinking maybe these are the wrong message boards to state that you believe there is such a thing as useless knowledge.

Secondly, what sorts of chemistry do you need to study for a degree in pharmacy? If you will be taking Physical Chemistry, hoo-boy are you in for it. It’s nothing but calculus, from what I remember.

Currently, pharmacists are very much in demand in the US, and starting salaries are extremely high. So if you can muddle through, it will definitely be worth it in the long run.

FWIW, in one of my CompSci classes at LSU, the professor ran out of the class in tears because she couldn’t cope with an example problem she put on the board. Of course, she wasn’t exactly stable in the first place…

WARNING: Unsupported rant followed by a little advice and sympathy ahead—>

The reason few people flee English in tears is that it’s at least related to a language they grew up speaking. Even if English isn’t their native language, there are enough fundamental points of similarity for them to get a handle on it. Math, on the other hand, is a very alien language for most people–and it’s much less forgiving than English. There are no colloquialisms in math, no slang. The rules are the rules (leaving aside the “Step 5: A miracle occurs, producing this equation” cases we engineers throw into the mix ) Imagine growing up until the age when you attended your first math class (6 or 7 years old?) without knowing any spoken language, then trying to learn a language in which any mispronunciation or grammatical errors will render your speech incomprehensible or just plain wrong. That’s how we start learning math. You practice problems until you’re sick of them for the same reason you said new words over and over as a little kid, with your parents and teachers correcting your pronunciation–that’s how you learn to do it right, without struggling with it. People in technical professions often use more math than they realize, precisely because they’ve been drilled in it until they no longer notice the effort. When I read your post, I stopped to think about all of the math I use and was surprised. I realized that I use algebra, trig, stats, even simple calculus very often. I even use logarithms, fer cryin’ out loud–they can be really handy. I do tech support for cell phone systems, and I use all this stuff.

I realize that all of that is probably not much comfort–I also remember a lot of sucky math classes (and I’m pretty good at it). They can be horrible, and it sounds like you don’t have a very good teacher if he tells you that people have fled in tears-he could offer a little encouragement instead. I don’t know if you will ever personally find the math you’re studying useful, but please believe that no learning is ever wasted. It’s better to know it and never need it than to be caught short later. Math is really just another language for describing the world–more finicky, more precise than English, but still just another language. It really does apply, and it truly is useful. If you’re really getting overwhelmed, look for help from someone who knows the lingo better–maybe ask one of those math scholars who annoy you so much for a few tips, or a simplified explanation. Students who understand the material are often better at explaining it to others than the teachers themselves; I often found myself “translating” lectures for my classmates.

That reminds me - I need to do an exponential regression analysis on my latest bacterial growth curve this evening…

to get this out of the way, i’m pretty good at math.

BUT:

i think most math teachers are SH!T. had one junior year in highschool who would yell HERESY when a student made a mistake and throw erasers at them. i admit i thought this was somewhat funny but i don’t think it’s a way to teach kids.

they should start teaching basic physics in grammar school and teach math at the same time as it applies to the physics. then it won’t seem like useless abstract nonsense.
like electricity, ohms law. there’s lots of math in electronics and most people have electronic sstuff at home.

Dal Timgar

I’m usually fairly good at Maths, but sometimes a problem comes up that just doesn’t seem to make any sense. You need someone to explain it a bit better, because Maths, IMHO, isn’t really intuitive, although problems do follow on from each other and things get gradually more advanced–you either know how to do the problem or not.

I find it can be helpful once I know how to do something to write myself a guide how to do a certain type of problem, and add to it when a new way is introduced, so by the end of the year I’ve got all the different types of trig, integration etc. I should know. But this is because I learn best verbally. You need to find a way of learning the stuff that suits your way of thinking.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone if you find a problem you can’t get your head round–I’m sure it happens to everyone. If you can’t ask your Maths teacher I’m sure there are pleanty of people on here that can help, and there is a site called Ask Me (once Xpertsite) which has a Maths question board and people knowledgable about Maths answer your questions.

Honesty, this might sound like a stab in the dark, but are you good at history?

In my experience, those who are not good at languages, or who experience a great deal of frustration with them, are good at things that are not languages, like history or art. I have always just gotten languages. So French, Latin, Math, Music, English . . . just clicked for me. Art was a waste of my time and I almost didn’t graduate high school because my US history grade was that low.

Just an observation from a college student. Take it as you wish.

“Granted, I want to be a Pharmacist, so I have to get to math 171 (and I’m at 105 and struggling) yet when I talked to a Pharmacist they told me that they don’t even use math beyond basic measurements! So what’s the point?”

I want to be a teacher. I knew this in high school and I still had to take precal. When in the blazes will I ever need that? Probably at some point. I didn’t have a problem with it then, but then I also enjoy math.

Do you plan to have a checkbook? Work with fractions? Figure out how much time it’ll take for something to get to X point from Y is it’s increasing at a rate of 2 per second per minute? Unless you plan to have a program written for it, or a timesheet or something, you’ll need math (and no, I’m not going to do it out. RT can figure it out for us:)).

Calculus is one of those things that’s a big scary monster when you hear about it, but when post people take it they don’t have such a problem with it. I remember hearing about the evils of geometro in grade school. Then I got there and it was rather easy. Calculus I’d heard was a dragon to tame. I got a 3 on the AB exam. Hardly stellar, but it didn’t give me huge problems.

Physics is another beast we always hear about . . . how impossible it is, how grown men and women can’t do the equations . . . I took physics my freshman year of high school. The right teacher made it really simple stuff as soon as we all say how much it was like algebra.

As FDR said, you have nothing to fear but fear itself. If you don’t let yourself get worked up about something, you’re set. If you go into it thinking “I can’t DO THIS!!!”, . . . well, you need counseling but that’s another issue;)

And there are any number of us who would be happy to give you help/advice/cheat sheets and such to assist you on your way.

Well, I don’t think math is too hard. Given my profession (math graduate student) that may be stating the obvious, but hey, it’s IMHO.

I will agree with anyone who says that there are some crappy teachers out there, though. There are some wonderful ones, and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and being taught by several, but as a whole the system is a mess. The state of mathematics education is comparable to the state of medicine before surgeons took over from barbers: there’s a lack of standards, and actual experimental evidence about the effectiveness of teaching techniques gets glossed over or ignored.

Honesty, you seem to have encountered more of the bad kind of mathematics teacher than the good; I offer you my condolences.

My degree is in music.

I was sure I would be a rock star (well, in a star level rock band).

The two subjects I completely blew off in school were English and Math.

In my grown up life, I’ve been an editor and a financial analyst. I don’t know how it happened.

It doesn’t matter if you get good grades in math–or anything. Just go to class and stay awake. You’ll be fine.

Undergrad math major (and math tutor) checking in…

While I can’t agree math is not important or useful, it is important to realize it is just math. One source of frustration might stem from focusing too much on doing problems right now. Difficult problems can be fun, it is having to turn them in at the end of the day that makes it stressful. Relax, take a breather, and don’t feel bad if there is a problem that you haven’t been able to answer (myself, I once wrote “the solution is not obvious” on a test and turned it in). It is, after all, just math. It is not worth an ulcer.

Don’t let your teacher (or anyone else) intimidate you by knowing more math. Answers are always obvious if you know them in advance. Don’t think your teacher came up with this stuff himself. This stuff was worked out over hundreds of years, and takes time to learn.

Oh, my pet peeve about a few math instructors: giving out problems which don’t contain enough information to be answered. Proof read the bloody things. Some students will spend hours of their limited time working on those things, and not be willing to give up.

My parents have told me that in kindergarten, when we were told to do any kind of art work, I would put my head on my desk and cry. My emotional stability has improved since then, but my artistic ability and confidence remain in the dumpster. The only field of visual arts I will even come near is photography, since it feels more ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’ than painting or sculpting.

I know this isn’t much help to you, but I just wanted you to know that there’s a math person out there who knows something of how you feel, and sympathizes.

That said, you might want to look for a copy of “Calculus Made Easy”, by Sylvanus P. Thompson. It’s an old book, but it’s written in a very straightforward manner by a professor who felt there were too many mathematicians who enjoyed making calculus look harder than it really is. I bought it for \$10 from Amazon, but your library or local bookstore might also have it.

Good luck,

–sublight.

Unfortunately this speaks more about the teacher than the subject. I felt frustrated learning math in public school because I never saw any useful application for it. Looking back on this now, I believe that most of the techers I had did not try to challenge me with real world problems, but rather aimed at baffling me with abstract bullshit.

As soon as I began to acquire an intrest in basic physics (and sadly, this was not encouraged by teachers, but simply by my inquisitiveness & observations of the physical world around me), then move into electricity & ohm’s (and other’s) laws, then finally into more complex circuits where math skills are critically essential, I finally began to see the practical application. Math made horrendously complicated circuit analysis comparitively easy. It did a whole lot of other things too, but this is already going to be a long enough story…

•  •  •  •

My take on why so many people are repelled my the thought of having to learn math: Many people experienced the same level of frustration that I did in the most important periods of their math schooling. High school math teachers fail to properly motivate (and therefore, educate) their studants to actually want to learn even basic math.

I’m not talking about Algebra or trig here, just plain old arithmatic. So many people I encounter on a daily basis have an incomplete understaning of fractions, decimals, orders of magnitude, averaging, etc. that asking them to go the extra step to learn algebra is just overwhelming.

A large fraction (sorry!) of the population is innumerate. I have encountered many people who can’t understand the significance of orders of magnitude. They think that, even though the number 5 billion is extreemly large, this many seconds equates to roughly a few months, pehaps a few years when in reality 5 billion seconds is about twice the human lifespan.

That’s what I think is at the crux of the issue- ordinary common innumeracy.

For about 12 years I taught electricity & electronics theory to a wide range of people. Some were older folks who felt they had dead-end careers & wanted to learn a trade, others were fresh out of high school & didn’t quite know what they wanted to do with their lives yet. In every age group I encountered people who were lacking the basic concepts of math. Many could not add ½ to ¾ because they did not know who to properly handle the denominators. The “bright” ones at least realized that this problem could be represented as .5+.75, and they admitted they achieved this by equating ½ dollar to 50¢ and ¾ dollar to 75¢.

In that school all teachers were judged on their students’ grades & pass/fail rates, so I knew I had to do something about this mess and quick.

I put together a basic arithmatic class and offered it free of charge, as long as students were also enrolled to some other course in the same school. I called the class “I hate math” because if I called it “math for dummies” I doubt I’d have gotten many people to sign up. Little did I know that the Dummies craze would become almost fasionable later on…

The “I hate math” course was an instant hit, and it was a week or two into the class before most of the students realized that they were actually being tricket into becoming interested in arithmatic. I was able to peak their intrest in many of the basic concepts that they should have learnt in high school, only this time I related the subjects to real world problems. It was wonderful to see the light slowly dawn on so many people, as they began to understand why higher math would eventually become not just necessary but actually useful in their lives.

Later on when I saw these students in my electronics classes, I found them willing & able to learn the necessary algebra & trig that came along with the standard circuit analysis lectures. They were able to solve basic equations, and manipulate formula to solve for any desired unknown. They felt empowered with this ability, not burdened by it. They saw algebra as skill, not a chore. A tool, not a task.

If it weren’t for the fact that actually working in the technology field gets me two or three times what I made teaching, I’d still be there because teaching is my first love. But that’s another thread.

I’m sorry you had the wrong teachers at such a critical point in your early education.

I can sympathize. However, I took Intermediate Algebra this year at my local community college (required class for a course I was going to pursue) and discovered that a good textbook makes all the difference in the world.

I was always a B or C student in math in high school (made it through Trig) and never really liked it that much, but this year, I had a textbook that actually brought in a lot of “real life examples” i.e. story problems (ever my bane in h.s!) I tell ya, it was the first time I can say I was ever really interested in a math class. I’m in desktop publishing now, but there were a lot of things I could use in my day-to-day life. Just my thoughts.

Take a deep breath, get some help, take your time when you work (that was my problem: trying to be the first one done with a problem - never seemed to get it right!), and remember, it’ll be over soon.

Honesty, it’s true that most jobs will not require you to know calculus. Most jobs will also not provide you with six or seven figure salaries. Unfortunately, the jobs in the former group are more likely to be in the latter group.

You find mathematics a difficult and unpleasant subject to learn. So be it. Now you have to decide if in the course of your life you’re going to take the easy road or force yourself to rise above obstacles.