936 words - 4 pages

The educational system grooms children to be productive members of society. First coined in the days of one-room schoolhouses, the phrase “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic” has become a common mantra of education. The third of these three r’s is mathematics, an infamous subject. It is incumbent in many professions, from accountants and doctors to physicists and teachers. Both hated and adored by many, math is complex, essential, and encompasses hundreds of topics. These topics can be sorted into four basics categories: elementary math, algebra, physics, and calculus.

Elementary math is the math everyone wishes he could go back to learning. It is the math of writing numbers, counting to ten, and adding two plus two. In elementary math properly scrawling a “7” merits a “good job” sticker, and math’s possibilities never stretch beyond the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. “Mad minute” tests—tests with 60 basic math problems to be completed in under one minute—are perhaps the only frightening aspect of elementary math. Teachers do not struggle to find real-world applications for the four pillars of arithmetic. Eager-eyed students will be enchanted by the fact that they can now answer the classic, “If John has two apples, and Jane has three apples, how many do they have together?” The phrase, “No matter what you do when you get older, you will need to do math” is actually true in terms of elementary arithmetic, for everyone from custodians to CEOs uses skills like adding or dividing every day. With that in mind, elementary mathematics could be considered the most important type of math, despite its simplicity.

The end of this simplicity, algebra, is where a student’s math career can take off or plummet. The idea of letters being incorporated into the numerical world is radical and frustrating. The concept of a symbol representing an unknown baffles some students; therefore, different levels of math courses are offered once algebra is introduced. The lower classes will monotonously drill the basics, like order of operations, while the others discover geometry and trigonometry—that is, after they are taught to write “5n” instead of “n5.” Algebra is the math in which the first grumbles of, “Why do we have to learn this?” are heard. Some concepts, like the area formula, easily defend their case for being useful. On the other hand, processes like synthetic division or proofs produce answers that are only numbers and letters, not physical measurements. Teachers will often withhold the secret powers of the skill they are covering. They are adamant that students need to learn how to do it before they can know how to use it. Algebra’s greatest downfall, however, is the existence of graphing calculators. While most higher level algebra classes require them, their graphing capabilities and matrix functions decry tedious processes. A teacher will, of course, instruct her...

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