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Monday, March 24, 2014



This cranky re-run is from March 2012

At my age I have forgotten way more than I have ever learned and I think the ratio of forgotten to learned is increasing. 

Why do we need to learn stuff that we probably will never use?  This is a question I ask myself today especially with regards to new technology.  It is a question virtually every teenager asks his parents while struggling with plain geometry, physics or Spanish 1. 

The standard parental answer is

1.    You don’t know yet what you will need to know at your age.

2.    Learning these things teaches you how to think.

Both of these answers will not register with your teenager.

My son played baseball in high school.  The field they played on was a perfect square.  It was 300 feet down each foul line and therefore 300 feet from either foul pole to dead center field.  The distance to centerfield was listed as 350 feet.  Many a long fly ball to dead center failed to reach the fence.  The players on the team were convinced dead center was deeper than 350 feet.  The coach said no.

When my son mentioned this to me my immediate response was, “I thought you said you would never use anything you learned in geometry.”


“Draw a line from home plate to center field.  You have a right triangle.  The distance down the right field line (a) is 300 feet.  The distance from the right field foul pole to dead center (b) is the same as the distance from home to the left field foul pole 300 feet.  The distance of the line from home to dead center (c) can be determined by that formula you thought you would never use: a2 + b2 = c2.  So 90000 + 90000 = 180000 and the square root of 180000 is about 424 feet.  Tell your coach the distance to dead center based on the formula a2 + b2 = c2.” is 424 feet not 350 feet.”

The next day I asked my son “Is the coach going to change the center field marker to 424 feet?”


“Why not?”

“He says he don’t care about no a2 + b2 = c2.  If the sign says it is 350 feet to dead center then it is 350 feet to dead center.”

“Well” I told him, “Now in addition to finding out that you can actually use what you learn in school, your coach has demonstrated why it is also important to  learn how to think.”     


  1. I was terrible at math back in my school days. It never made sense to me. I just don't use that part of my brain where math skills are located. By the way, I'm planning on doing Val's blog hop on Friday, in case you want to join me.

  2. Probably one of the reasons why I never felt the need to "try harder" in sports. Most of the "coaches" I encountered weren't the brightest bulbs.
    I've only ever had to use the Pythagorean Theorem when building stuff, but I was sure glad I remembered that one. Sine? Cosine? Tangent? I'm lost.

  3. I tell kids that they will use algebra when they cook meals. (Like if you don't have enough flour, and you solve for x.)

  4. Well yes but then geometry was never my strong suit...;)

  5. Some coach. Not. I took statistics in college. That was some tough stuff, but once you remember your algebra the statistics became much easier. Math was never my favorite classes though.

    Have a fabulous day. :)

  6. I was a math major for awhile in college. Advanced Calculus finished that (and me) off. And I could never get geometry.

  7. In 2014, it doesn't add up. Here's the problem. You are discriminating against those who can't think. There must be some statute prohibiting such a suggestion.

    1. You are right of course, I think it could be a hate crime...I am sincerely sorry for hating, although in this case I don't think it was the inability to think, but the decision not to think...the difference may mitigate my guilt.

  8. Almost followed you. But if you had started that nonsense about a train traveling 60 miles an hour from Philadelphia------ I might have had to throw up.
    Sadly today with all the electronics allowed in the class room, kids don't need to think, just how to Google and work calculators.

  9. I hated math in high school in Germany. I sucked at it.

    Then I took business math in college here in the States (many, many years later), and wondered why it was so easy. I was the first one ever to get a perfect score on the final exam.

    Go figure.

  10. I'll bet Joe had to look up the answer or ask his brother!

  11. Great post! Bet the coach hated you! Kind of reminded me of all of the uproar over Then New Common Core!

  12. Coaches don't like *smart alecks* but I do. More, more!

  13. "you can do your mathy stuff all day long but that don't change the facts"

    quote from my college literature prof when challenged about Biblical time lines ....

  14. How much research did you have to do to write this post! lol
    After all, if you ever knew all of that off the top of your head, you should have forgotten it by know (when you wrote this). You said it, I didn't. :)

    When I begin to "explain" things to my kids, they have this look on their faces, as if to say, "Oh, noooo... Mommy's getting revved up. We're in trouble."

    Your post tells me that it's worth it.