One of the most annoying things that I hear in an academic setting is someone asking a math teacher “when am I going to use this in life?”
It’s even worse when the math teacher doesn’t seem to have an answer for them, or they don’t seem to want to answer. The teacher has a perfect opportunity to explain their efficacy to society and at the same time smash one of the stupidest and most persistent questions in the history of academia by answering it with a set of well-made observations, but they don’t take it. It’s a tragedy.
The reason people ask this question is because they’re not in the mood for something that doesn’t give them an immediate dopamine rush, and they feel justified in dismissing something abstract, the application of which isn’t immediately evident to them. They’ll happily play complex JRPGs on their phones wherein they manipulate multipliers to give a statistical advantage, but when it comes to learning basic algebra, it suddenly becomes a chore. Then, afterwards, they’ll brag to one another about how bad they are at math because for some reason that’s something that they’re proud of.
You don’t learn math in school because someone is going to make you use it in your theoretical job, you use it to prove that you’re not an ignoramus. As a potential employer sees it, if a person is good at math, they are good at following procedures and solving problems, which is pretty much what math is. As hiring managers see it, if one applicant knows integral calculus and the other is a D student that barely passed high school algebra, and they’re both asking for the same pay, he’ll pick the one that’s not a doofus, even if the job doesn’t require the use of calculus.
The fact is, knowing more advanced math makes you more competitive.
When a person asks when they’re going to use the math that they’re learning, what they’re demonstrating is that they don’t have much insight as to how competitive they’ll have to be in a job market where having a college degree doesn’t guarantee one a well-paying job shortly after graduation.
People who think that math is boring simply don’t know about the history of math. You may have heard about the Pythagorean Theorem, it’s the geometric formula that goes something like this:
a2 + b2 = c2
The Pythagoreans were a gnostic cult, which means that they believed that there was an advantage to be had in keeping certain information secret. If the Pythagoreans had it their way, they’d have kept the formula to themselves. They actually killed someone after one of their members leaked the formula to someone who wasn’t in their sect. Knowing this, it’s kind of hard to want to credit the Pythagoreans with this formula, as they would have left us to try to figure it out on our own.
So yeah, someone actually died over this. And now a bunch of disinterested kids are doing what they can to get out of learning it because they think it’s boring and they don’t comprehend how being better at math can make them more money in just a few years.
People say that they like science and technology because they want people to think that they’re smart, but when it comes to learning the math that scientists, engineers, coders and technicians must learn, they’re suddenly reduced to being mere hapless witnesses staring at the dry-erase board in the front of the classroom with glazed-over expressions.
If you think you’re so smart, prove it, and learn some math.