Math was the most difficult subject I ever...

I strongly believe that there is no two opinions on this account. Generation after generation we grow up disliking and misunderstanding math and not feeling the worse for it. Still, lest these pages be mistaken for a pioneering effort, I wish to give credit to those who raised the issue on other occasions.

  1. A. K. Dewdney, 200% of Nothing, John Wiley & Sons, 1993

    People also stereotype themselves in order to avoid math. Women who roll their eyes at the mention of math may be unconsciously taking refuge in the dumb blond stereotype. "I was never any good at math." It may as well be Barbie speaking. ... They may laugh if you called them innumerate but would become incensed if you ever called them illiterate. (p 136)

  2. Barbie's voice chip by Mattel (from A.K.Dewdney, 200% of Nothing)

    Math class is tough.

  3. P. J. Davis and R. Hersh, The Mathematical Experience, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1981

    The difficulties of communication emerged vividly when the ideal mathematician received a visit from a public information officer of the University.

    P.I.O.: I appreciate your taking time to talk to me. Mathematics was always my worst subject.


    The United States is the only advanced industrial nation where people are quick to admit that "I am not good in math."

  5. S. Dehaene, The Number Sense, Oxford University Press, 1997

    Calculation errors are so widespread that far from stigmatizing ignorance, they attract sympathy when they are admitted publicly ("I've always been hopeless at math!"). Many of us can almost identify with Alice's plight as she attempts to calculate while travelling through Wonderland: "Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is - oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!"

  6. S. K. Stein, Strength in Numbers, John Wiley & Sons, 1996

    Consider the message a child gets when reading these exchanges in the daily comics. The first is from Peanuts

    "Say we cut an apple in half. We now have two halves."

    "That's fractions!! You're trying to teach me fractions! I'll never understand fractions! I'll go crazy!"

    Isn't that a fine way to prepare a child for the study of fractions? Now how about this in Calvin and Hobbes?

    "I have a question about this math lesson."


    "Given that sooner or later we're all just going to die, what's the point of learning about integers?"

    I admit that I found that amusing. However, why didn't the strip ask, "What's the point of learning to read or write or studying history?"

  7. C. C. Clawson, Mathematical Mysteries, Plenum Press, 1996

    Most adults admit to an ignorance and a deeply rooted annoyance of mathematics.

  8. Bill Cosby, a stand-up show, February 7, 1998, New Brunswick State Theater

    Calculus is one course you can come with to your parents and say, I am dropping it. And they'll understand.

  9. Huckleberry Finn:

    I have been to school ... and could say the multiplication table up to 6×7 = 35, and I don't reckon I could ever get any further than that if I was to live forever. I don't take no stock in mathematics, anyway.

  10. From Mathematica Fallacies, Flaws and Flimflam by Edward J. Barbeau (MAA, 2000, p. 1):

    The column Money angles: where else to invest? by Andrew Tobias in the May 17, 1993, issue of Time offers this advice for improving your financial worth:

    Buy staples in bulk when they're on sale Consider a family that buys one bottle of wine each week. With the 10% discount many stores offer on wine by the case, they would be saving 10% every twelve weeks-more than 40% a year, tax free and largely risk free.

    One can in fact do better; increase consumption to one case per month and save 120% over a year, thus qualifying for a 20% payback from the merchant.

    Submitted by Larry Zeitel of Loras College in Dubuque, IA.

    (Andrew Tobias maintains a website where, in paticular, he offers an explanation of his reasoning. I thank Brendan Field for bringing this link to my attention.)

  11. And another one from the same book (p 15):

    The April 3, 1994 ussie of the Washington Post recounted how a sports celebrity failed to answer the following questions on a high school equivalency test:

    1. If the equation for a circle is x2 + y2 = 34, what is the radius of the circle?
    2. If 6 - 50 = x + 20, what is x?
    3. If 2x plus 3x plus 5x = 180, what is x?

    Bert Sugar, the publisher of Boxing Illustrated, was not surprised at the failure. He opined that anyone who could answer the math questions "could probably qualify as a nuclear scientist." The reporter's reaction to this view was not recorded.

    Contributed by Milt Eisner of Mount Vermon College in Washington, DC.

  12. Yours truly was referred to on the We're Here Forums! in a duscussion on binary to hexadecimal conversion:

    This guy shows you how to create a *nary to *nary conversion using a single algorithm. Deep stuff. I would attempt to port this into actionscript, but I'm not getting paid to hurt my brain like that. But I'll post a regular binary to hex converter in a few minutes, just a second.


  13. The following is quoted in The College Mathematics Journal, 1987, v 18, p. 211:

    We look forward to the day when everyone will receive more than the average wage.

    Australian Minister of Labor, 1973

  14. The prevalent attitude has a long history. Here's a quote from The Complete Angler by Izaak Walton (1593–1683).

    Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learnt.

    (Richard Bradley wrote to suggest that Walton's quote taken out of context has the meaning completely opposite to the intended.)

  15. And another quote from The College Mathematics Journal, 1987, v 30, p. 68:

    The Effect of Mathematics

    Denziger looked as though mathematics were happening to him right then and there. As though math were happening to him. He looked subtracted, with much of his force of life, and his IQ, suddenly taken away.

    Martin Amis, Night Train
    Harmony Books, NY, 1997, p. 117.

  16. Monty Phister found an intersting comparison in an article in the Wall Street Journal ("Ethnomathematics" by Diane Ravitch, June 20, 2005). He wrote in an email message: "Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about the state of mathematics teaching today. At one point it compares a 1973 and a 1998 Algebra textbook. Here are index entries under F for the two books:"

    1973: Factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, functions.
    1998: families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, fund-raising carnival.


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