I barely passed math in high school and now I have to help my students with math more than any other subject. Some days, I can understand why we teach it. Some days, I can tell my students, “Yes, you really will use this in your adult life.” I was helping my sixth graders learn how to set up proportions and figure out tax and tips and discounts. It was stuff we use all the time. I could honestly say with certainty that they will need this knowledge later in life. I mean, you don’t want to waste money on the buy-one, get-one deal for generic canned tomatoes when the coupon for the name brand tomatoes is the better deal. You need math to figure out this stuff. Unless, of course, you marry a rich person who takes you out to dinner so you don’t have to buy tomatoes at all, which is clearly the best solution.
And then there are times, like today, when I was helping my eighth graders solve two-step inequalities and graph them. When was the last time, you thought to youself, “Hmmmm, I must graph the solution to -6x – 18 > -12. I simply need to know the answer immediately!”? Have you ever, in your adult life, needed to graph an inequality onto a number line? Ever? Of course not!
I’ve gotten pretty good at faking it though. Today, a student asked me, “when you multiply or divide by a negative, aren’t you supposed to flip the sign?” At the beginning of the year, I would’ve looked at them, completely dumbfounded, and said something like, “How the crap am I supposed to know?!” Today, however, I looked at him and said, “Is this what your math teacher told you?” When he nodded in the affirmative, I concurred, “Why yes, yes, you do.” Then I frantically searched through the book to double-check. My students are none-the-wiser these days. They think I’m brilliant. (Yes, it does make me feel good to know I can hold my own with twelve-year-olds, thankyouverymuch.)
So today, while I was helping my students study for their test on solving and graphing two-step inequalities, they asked me, “Why do we have to know this stuff?”
I answered, “You don’t. But I had to learn this garbage in junior high, so now I’m making you learn it too just so I can experience a little vindication.” They merely stared at me blankly until I had them look up the word “vindicate” in the dictionary, thus effectively moving us on to Language Arts. Voila!