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Why Do I Need to Study Math?

Date: 04/05/2007 at 03:40:52
From: Carla
Subject: Why are quadratic equations imortant to real life?How?

I am learning how to solve quadratic equations, graph quadratic 
equations and am also learning about complex numbers.  Why are all 
of these concepts important to learn?  How do they relate to real 

I am a high school student who is college bound, but I am not going 
into a major involving math, so why should I care?

Date: 04/05/2007 at 09:19:21
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Why are quadratic equations imortant to real life?How?

Hi, Carla.

Perhaps you shouldn't care!  But I can suggest a couple reasons why 
it might still be worth having studied, even if you never touch a 
variable the rest of your life.

First, let's turn the tables and ask the same question about another 
field.  I DID go into a major involving math.  My major did NOT 
involve literature.  Yet I had to take courses in English, studying 
novels or short stories.  Why should I have been made to do that?

One answer is that one never knows where one might end up.  Although 
literature was never one of my great loves, I have (in part because 
of interesting courses in which I had to write essays) developed a 
love of writing, which is one reason I'm a Math Doctor.  I also enjoy 
reading with my kids, including some of the great books to which I 
was introduced in those courses.  And maybe someone else in my 
position would have ended up writing a novel!  Similarly, you might 
end up either getting hooked on some kind of math, or simply getting 
into a job where, like it or not, math is part of the territory. 
Even if you don't end up DOING math, you may need to be able to 
communicate effectively with those who do--or to decide whom to trust 
to do your math for you!

Another answer is that it is good for all of us to be introduced to 
the great cultural achievements of our civilization.  It gives us a 
fuller understanding of the ideas on which civilization is built. 
This is called "liberal education"--getting a generous helping (the 
literal meaning of "liberal") of general knowledge, rather than 
focusing on one small part of what is known.  And math, including all 
the topics you mention, is one of the great achievements of culture. 
To take simple concepts like numbers and shapes, and turn them into 
a complex structure of provable facts including many complete 
surprises like the Pythagorean theorem or the existence of complex 
numbers, shows the power of creativity.  Just knowing it's there 
broadens your horizons.

Finally, studying a wide variety of subjects strengthens your mind. 
Just as athletes may do exercises that have little to do with the 
particular sport they are planning to participate in, just to help 
their bodies become strong and well balanced, much of what you learn 
in school is meant to strengthen all parts of your mind.  Studying 
literature may have helped me in my mathematical studies by giving 
me different sorts of things to analyze intellectually, providing me 
with a broader set of experiences I can use in solving problems. 
Studying math may help you learn about various methods of solving 
problems, giving you insight into how to solve problems in the future 
that may not directly involve math, but may require some similar modes 
of thinking.  Or maybe you'll just have more confidence, knowing 
you've been able to learn something hard, and therefore can do so 
again when you need to.

If you have any further questions, feel free to write back.

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
High School About Math

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