Mathmatics: Blessing or Bane

 Whether we are verifying our expenses after a shopping trip, checking a bank account or counting the days to somebody’s birthday, we are using mathematics: It is an intellectual tool that enables us to discipline our thoughts in a logical manner, to express them clearly and to reach a useful conclusion: However, it does not provide the ideas in the first place and without a subject to work on it is only like a hammer for driving nails into thin air. Unfortunately, mathematics is often unimaginatively taught without a subject to work on and so appears to be pointless which, in that context, it is. 

 It is a law of Nature that all effects must have a cause and a mathematical equation formula simply relates cause and effect. Our stone-age forebears knew, when pushing boulders that the harder they pushed the faster it went and the hotter they became. Yet, many years went by before Newton and Einstein formulated this knowledge in a usable form for the engineer to use and in many cases for scientists to identify the causes of certain, hitherto unexplained effects.

If you are or were a teacher of maths I ask them to be so kind as to give me your considered opinion of my comments on teaching mathematics?  For those that feel that they can get along without maths, l would also like to read your opinion?

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Published in Questions & Trivia


  1. roseinbloom

    Roger, I am a victim of math taught the wrong way for me. My brother had the same teacher and he had no problem, but I asked why and the teacher gave no explanation and there fore I felt awkward just doing and algorithm and getting an answer. Math is necessary for any rational existence and the more we use it the better we can manage our life.

  2. starlette

    Hi Roger, it is essential that we know basic maths, add, subtract multiply, we need to know how to check our change in shops, we need to know how much money to hand over for items, maths is used daily in one capacity or another………but the basics were all I was taught at school, I know what I need to know, which is a darn sight more then some of the younger generation who were taught all the fancy mathematics at school but do not know the basics… example…….if I buy something at £1.15 and was paying with a five pound note I would offer the odd 15 pence hence just needing £4 change …… I then get looked at as if I have lost my marbles, some of the tillers haven’t a clue what change to give me because the till says exactly what change I need…and they cannot work it out for themselves………I have no interest in Maths, I hated it at school and still do……my mind isn’t tuned into numbers…….

    1. rodger Post author

      Hello Roseinbloom
      Thank you for your comments, they comfort my own opinion.
      Until I went on to a Polytechnic Institute, math was complete boredom for me.
      At the Polytechnic the maths course was tied-in with the curriculum subject and suddenly became alive.
      My pre-historic ancestor, pushing a boulder along a track was replaced by a battery pushing an electrical charge along a wire. Later, that enabled me to successfully handle design studies of servo-devices involving calculations requiring a knowledge of the integral-calculus and Fourier and Laplace Transforms.
      This shows that the teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject that is being taught is all -important for some of us. Einstein is said to have had a similar experience but I permit myself to doubt that.
      Now that I am retired and have been this last thirty years or so, I still have this love of maths that incites me to study such things as mathematical models of human behaviour and crowd control which, apparently, have no call for mathematics. It is fun and keeps my mind on its toes and Alzheimer at bay.
      I sign off with the Radio Ham’s code: 80 which in Roman ciphers is: LXXX. That means ‘end of message’ I hasten to say in case you think that I am being forward.

      1. roseinbloom

        rodger, I don’t think you can be forward with a passion for math. I am GLAD you still enjoy it. My older brother loved math and we have switched and done eachs class assignments. I would do English or social studies and he would do math in college. In lower grades he would help me. He became an engineer for our Electric Company. He would do math in his head for fun. It is hear from people who have passion for different things. Math leaves many cold but lights a fire in others.

  3. rodger Post author

    Hello Starlette, thank you for a very helpful reply. I think that tillers are paid to do the arithmetic on their tills. They are paid less than if they are required to use their brains for that.
    Yes, I agree that basics are all that are required to do the every-day chores but I have always admired the clear thinking behind your blogs and your replies to mine: I said, in other words, that mathematics is a tool to help us think clearly and you already have a head-start so to speak.
    When I read of another acid attack or terrorist attack I regret that I am not in a position to obtain the profile of the attacker or attackers as this is one of the parameters of a model and it would help me perfection the model.

  4. starlette

    TY Roger…….I am very interested in the mind and what makes people tick, to be able to catch people by putting together a profile of the offender I think is awesome…… to do it with using mathematics is beyond me……but I know your are very clever at anything to do with Maths, it is your forte, maybe if it had been made more interesting for me at school I would have taken more of an interest……

  5. waylander

    You made me think, Roger. How dare you! Lol

    I wouldn’t say enjoyed being taught maths, but it was interesting and I seemed to have a bit of an aptitude for it, which made things easier.

    I thought I would be leaving maths behind when I left the army, but, of course, I didn’t. We never can.

    Being in the export/import business it was all weights, volumes, transit times, ETD’s, ETA’s and time zones.

    Even in retirement the maths never stops. Accounts, Fuel consumption figures, right down to calculating the time to drag dinner out of the oven before the fire starts.

    Maths is always with us. It helps if you enjoy it, or at least are reasonably good at it, but even if you hate it, you can’t escape it.

  6. TheWalker

    Hi Rodger,

    I have always been good with numbers with Statistics being my personal favourite. For me Maths has always been easy, English on the other hand…

    I have taught Maths and if there is one thing I learnt as a teacher at a very early stage was that no one way of teaching works for everyone. Many different approaches are needed to get the points across, very few can just book-learn the subject.

    As I mainly taught adults who had already tried and failed the subject but needed the certificate to enable other options I was the only person in the room who really loved the subject.

    My most impressive results were when I was able to make the subject relevant and fun. Yes Maths can be fun!!

    I was happy when I did get the victory of getting those through the exam and even few admitted they liked the course, praise indeed.

    Nowadays I try to keep my mind agile with puzzle books (dudeney is very good) and the odd supersudoku (16 x 16 grids).

    Thanks for the blog Rodger. Appreciated.

  7. Tommy H

    When I was at school I found maths (Boring) and English (Hard) most all the other subjects of no interest. but when I started engineering collage I found trigonometry & triangulation real fun and got quite good at it. Maths can be absorbing.

  8. rose1943

    My daughter teaches mainly Math in the Chicago Public School system. She has had many grants to further her knowledge in this subject from some terrific universities. My knowledge is basic as I am of a pretty old age. One of my much-used statements is “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. I know that drivers usually can’t follow this due to one ways, etc., but since I don’t drive, only walk, I have always found this useful to save time. My daughter, the math scholar, says it’s not true!! My answer to her was “I do not want to know” !! I was sincere, not wanting to know that I have wasted my time. She said she’ll give me the answer whenever I’m ready. Any thoughts?

    1. rodger Post author

      Hi Rose. I don’t know what your daughter’s argument is but I think that it might be that it is impossible to walk a straight line on a curved surface such as that of the Earth without cutting through the ‘bump’. For example, a straight line drawn from London to Sidney is shorter than the shortest distance overland but it goes through a lot of Earth. However, that does not change the fact that the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line, so stay with your guns. It is only when we are thinking in a context where we are unlikely to be doing much walking that curved paths become important.
      In Brussels there are so many one-way streets and road-works that it is impossible for a motorist to find a short cut that is available for more that a couple of days! My GSP pilot does it’s best!

  9. rose1943

    Roger, I will discuss this with tomorrow when we visit. Now I’ve become very curious and will try to get an answer back to your blog. Good subject matter!