Fields: Math Is A Waste For Most

Guest Columnist


May 10, 1964 was my happiest day in education.  I wasn’t graduating high school, college, grad school, law school or even passing the Bar.
It was the day that I knew I would never have to take another Goddamn, useless math test.  

I bring this up today because the Florida Legislature, in it’s Oh So Finite Wisdom, is considering making Algebra II a requirement for high school graduation.
I only passed Algebra I (Mr. Hartman, North Miami JHS) when I agreed to stop being the class clown if he would give me a “C for the year.  God bless Diane Denning for negotiating that deal.
In the 10th grade, I flunked Geometry and had to go to summer school.
In the 11th grade, I dropped Algebra II and took Debate.
I took some cockamamie math class in college that I did not understand then or now.  I studied for the test and not the knowledge.  That night, whatever I had forced fed my brain was gone with the first bong hit. 
Since that time I have graduated college, got an MA, studied for a Ph.D, obtained a law degree and passed multiple Bar Exams the first time I took them.  I have written law review articles, co-authored books, tried two hundred plus jury trials and argued before the Florida Supreme Court. 
Not once have quadratic equations come up. 
Beyond basis arithmetic, the only thing that math has meant to me is that it has been a threat to keep me from getting the education I needed for the careers I wanted.
Now I know that some of you are drooling to write me about how math education has some unique qualities to teach us to think logically and critically. 
Save your “Send’ key. 

Unless you can attach a link to a peer reviewed scientific study that says this is true, you are nothing more for than another victim of the Math Myth.  I don’t want to read your undocumented, blowhard claim.
Because of the advent of calculators, for 98% of us, math skills are deteriorating for the same reason that word processors and spell-check have made penmanship and spelling less important.  We don’t need to spend months of class time honing pointless skills that machines do faster and more accurately. 
Some of you that are thinking: what if all the computers disappear?  Won’t you regret loosing those skills?  Sure.  And if all the cars disappear I will probably regret that I never learned to shoe horses.
For those of you who still don’t get it I have some bad news. 

If you went back to your old high school, you would find that the Slide Rule Club is gone.  They now have the Computer Club. 
If we had to retake the SAT most of us would improve our Verbal score.  But unless you have gone into a scientific field, you would be lucky to get 400 on the math.  

The average member of the Florida legislature would be lucky to get 300! [In case you forgot they give you 200 for signing your name] While the majority of us found it necessary to increase our reading and writing skills few have had any reason to improve our math skills from the time we were 18. 
Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Since the day you took your last math test what is the most difficult math problem you have had to do?  Answer: Calculate the yards of carpet you needed in the living room.
  • Has your spouse ever rolled over in bed and asked–“Honey, if a train leaves Chicago at 9am and travels east, etc.  Answer:  If they, I’m sorry to say, she or he  must be trying to avoid something else in bed.
  •  Have you ever met anyone who fell in love with math because they had the Pythagorean Theorem shoved down their throat?  Answer:  If you said yes, you are an idiot or a liar.

Let me make one thing clear; for 1 or 2 percent of us their math education is important to them and us.

There actually are rocket scientists and accountants.   It is important that we make sure this group has all the resources necessary. We should not be diluting our limited resources by making all of us take classes where the most significant life skill we develop is learning to cheat on the final exam.  
Remember this: Reading and writing skills are required because they are important.  Geometry and algebra are important because they are required. 


16 Responses to “Fields: Math Is A Waste For Most”

  1. Floridan says:

    I agree. It would be nice if everyone had advanced math skills (it’s always better to know more than less), but for many students courses like Algebra II are just too much.

    But more importantly, where is our legislative geniuses going to come up with the money to hire the additional algebra teachers that will be required?

    They won’t raise taxes, so maybe some sort of high school tuition?

  2. Floridan says:

    “where is” = “where are”

    And I did take English Composition!

  3. Sam Fields says:

    If we did not require everyone to take useless advanced math classes we would NOT have a sortage of math teachers.

  4. The Dumbing Down of America says:

    If you look at the number of college graduates in the US, the number is way down compared to other countries. We used to lead in that category. No longer. If you take a look at academic achievement, the number of days students are in school, the number of languages spoken, the ability to do math and science worldwide and compare all that to what we do here in the US, again we are well behind when we used to be the leaders in all those categories. It is inevitable that if we continue to dumb down American learning, and focus our attention on bong hits than academia, or on emulating the minimal levels of academic rigor required for graduation at places like North Miami Junior High School, that we will be overtaken by other, smarter nations in world standing. The job of every single generation before us was to hand to the next generation a better nation, to improve the human condition, to improve their ability and knowledge to excell. Only in the current generation do we see a lax attitude about the future and I dare suggest that focus on such things as bong hits may be at the core of that problem. America — grow up, stop taking our success for granted, for all glory is fleeting. Get serious before someone else eats your lunch. And trust me, nothing would please them more than that.

  5. Joe says:

    Mr Fields to us: Don’t reply unless you have peer-reviewed scientific studies to contradict.

    Mr Fields article: 4 specific numbers that are clearly made up (which means there is no evidence to back up his numbers). And the rest of the article is entirely based off his own anecdotal experience.

    It is easy to tell that you were bad at math becuase you offer no PROOF of any of your own ideas. Simple conjectures by a simple mind.

    It is easy to tell you are an irrational liberal because you whole argument is predicated on a single anecdote and other unsubstantiated, uninformed, uneducated guesses.

    Is this how you run your practice? Really? Can you simply make sweeping accusations and assumptions with absolutly nothing but the equivalent of “My mommy told me so?”

    If we replaced every statement of yours arguing that math was not necessary with me saying sex education was not necessary would that have the same weight? Why not?

    If you ever want to be taken seriously, do dome homework. The pieces of paper on your wall do not equal intelligence.

  6. Mister Courthouse says:

    To Sam Fields, expert on everything,

    Math is important.
    How else could you figure out how to bill your clients? Without math, how could your clients figure out how long they will be remaining in jail when you lose their cases?

  7. snoozer says:

    My math education has enabled me to calculate how many times I’ve fallen asleep reading one of Sam Fields blogs.

  8. Sam Fields says:

    Dear Dumbing Down of America, Joe, Mister Outhouse and Snoozer, AKA “The Blowhard Brothers”

    This is exactly what I knew I would get; a bunch of fools who never bothered to take a course in logic.

    1. If you are the proponent of maintaining and expanding math requirements the initial burden is on you to support the premise with studies etc. Unlike you I have looked for such studies on the Internet and found nothing. Your entire argument appears to be that you are right because I can’t prove a negative. The depth of that argument makes me wonder if the four of you commuted to school on the same “little” bus.

    2. But if you would like to make things interesting I propose the following wager to any of you that are not math majors, math teachers or part of the infinitesimal few that use advanced math as part of their job. Five hundred dollars says you can’t get a better SAT score then you got when you were 18. Looser pays for the test. Money talks, bullshit walks. Good news for Mr. Courthouse. They give the test on Saturday so it won’t interfere with your courthouse job in building maintenance.

    3. There are only so many classes you can take in high school or college. Proponents of required classes should justify the expenditure of time and tax dollars for their course. Is that too much to ask?

  9. Joe says:

    Mr. Fields,

    You have taken a position and posited ZERO factual basis to support your idea.

    Here is your logic

    A. This happened to me
    B. I turned out ok
    C. 99% of the population should do what I did

    Would you agree to this logic which mimics yours exactly

    A. I fought a lawyer in a case
    B. I won.
    C. 99% of people do not need lawyers

    Of course you would not agree with that argument because only an idiot would make that argument.

    Another instruction in logic for you…

    Here is your argument to us:

    A. I make an argument with no proof
    B. Do not bother making a refutation unless you have proof.
    C. You presented no proof therefor you are an idiot.

    Please point out, since I am so logically inept, the one item in your piece that is a FACT that is not anecdotal and proves your theory.

    Pretty please, show me the numbers or stats that prove your theory. I will give you a hint…there is none in your article nor in existence that prove your point.

    That was the entire point of my letter. No where did I argue for Algebra 2 or any other level of mathematics. I argued that you were a hypocrite who posited an idea, provided no proof other than your life and conjecture, then demanded a higher level of proof from any detractors. Why would my lack of proof be any worse than yours? I did not ask you to prove a negative. I do not think that means what you think it means.

    Unlike you, I did spend some time researching this yesterday. I do not expect people to spoon feed me, so when I could not find a study that would PROVE or disprove your theory I went another route. (though there are studies showing that an exposure to 8th grade algebra shows a higher correlation to graduation and college attendance)
    Go spend some time over at the Dept. of Labor and Statistics. I spent 10 minutes over there and found at least 10% of the population that absolutly needs an understanding of higher level mathematics to do their job. This did not include, teachers, assistants, military, pilots, air traffic, retired people who needed it at one point, etc..

    With a little time I could probably find at least 20% of the population with an absolute need for Algebra 2 and another 20% who need the exposure to it.

    This is a direct refutal of your 1-2% of the population. At the lowest estimated numbers you would still be off by five-fold. That is way off (proving your ineptitude at math)

    Answer to question #2) No, I will not take the test. It does not prove your point. I would do worse on both sides in all probability. So would most people. That defeats the purpose of that test and the purpose of high school as we currently have it established.

    You know I was required to take two years of a foreign language and I know none of it now. Let’s remove that.
    I had to take 4 years of English. I could not tell you the first part of sentence structure. Lets remove that.
    I had to take three years of science. Could not tell you how to read a periodic table anymore or how to measure the Doppler effect. Lets cut that.

    In fact, lets just make our children declare their life skill at the age of 12 and receive no other training than that skill.

    3)Is it too much to ask to have opponents of required classes provide some proof as to why they would cut them?

    The entire point of any of my posts that you are a demagogue. You have consistently thrown out ideas that are demonstrably lacking proof. When refuted you do not point out proof, you go on ad hominem attacks or you posit strawmen to cut down. You are irrational, illogical, and void of reason. The only reason I write is to point out the fallacies in your ideas to prevent contamination of the rest of the site.

  10. Sam says:


    Let’s further follow your logic. I don’t use biology or chemistry in my daily life. Let’s stop teaching that. I don’t need to read anything other than the newspaper, and possibly this blog. No more English. What the Romans did 2,000 years ago? Who cares, toss that. And taking an SAT test now is not the point. A young mind needs exercise. The point (and it’s amazing that this should have to be said to an educated person) is that many in our society do use advanced math, such as engineers and architects among other professions. We rely on them for safe buildings and roads and a multitude of other things. The fact that you or I might not use those disciplines daily is irrelevant. The point is that young people have to find where their calling is and education is the means through which they find that calling. Education is that exercise. What possible rational point can you hope to make by saying that kids learn less? Sorry, but I’d be embarrassed to have my name connected to such a thought, if you can call it that. Worse, I can’t believe I just stole three minutes of my life responding to such stupidity.

  11. Sam Field's Groupie says:

    I totally agree, Sam. I took Math for Elemetary School Teachers to satisfy my undergraduate requirements. All I have ever used math for in my legal career is to calculate contingent fees. I have gotten more use out of that elementary math course figuring the sale price of cashmere sweaters at Neiman Marcus than anywhere else. Everybody needs basic math skills. Leave the more complex stuff to the rocket scientists – wannabes.

  12. Sam Fields says:

    Dear Joe,
    I appreciate your thoughtful comments and want to respond. What is the cite to the Labor Stats?

  13. S. Only says:

    What to include in an education? We don’t know what we are going to need to know. So, a liberal arts education which is inclusive, not exclusive, serves us best. All courses should be an exercize and discipline of the mind. Actually, Sam, YOU too learned something by taking that math course—that you did NOT like it,which led you to take a different path. But here’s another thought: Why exclude vocational classes in our general educational system? Some students surely would find a passion for that just as some will find the pythagorean theorem exciting. (and the fact that I even know and remember that word is pretty impressive—might even need it in a crossword puzzle some day!)). Here’s the REAL problem though—Our society places such a low priority on education that it makes the smartest people choose other professions because they pay so much more…

  14. Sam Fields says:

    Dear S. Only;

    Education should have two goals. 1. Making us better citizens and
    2. giving us the opportunity to develop our talents as we see ourselves.

    Four years of high school involves 24 credits. Requiring Algebra I and II and geometry is a waste of time for 98% of us. (One writer claims it is 20 and 40 percent but offers no evidence of this. I have asked all kinds of people to tell me their toughest math problem in life. I have yet to get anything much more than 8th grade level math. This includes my neighbor who is a civil engineer. He tells me that all his work is computerized and requires little calculation. Just plug in the numbers.).

    When the majority of us can’t name the three branches of government that is more problematic. It is why too many of us do not rationally question government’s actions.

    We are facing an obesity epidemic that will cost us trillions in health care and lost productivity. Schools would do better to deal with real issues than the unsupported theory that advanced math will magically give us better brains. For ten years I have been waiting for my critics to produce peer reviewed evidence of this. I have been waiting for Godot.

    Save advanced math classes for those who care about it. That would instantly eliminate the shortage of math teachers. The rest of us should take a one year course that gives us a taste of algebra, geometry and even calculus.

  15. George DeMarse says:


    I think you’re spot on. I passed algebra 1, but like you flunked geometry. But then flunked geometry again!

    In college, however, I succeeded at a number of mathematical courses, to include statistics, logic, finance, managerial accounting, etc.

    But I disliked them.

    I do have some heavy research citations for you though. The education policy makers have determined that even if you’re a bad math student in algebra 1, and continue to be a bad math student in geometry, being a bad math student in even more classes is even better!

    So there! That ought to increase the number of scientists and engineers.

    The Sage of Wake Forest

  16. joesamoron says:

    joe does not understand that proof for this such basic topic of life is completely unnecessary to be taken into consideration.