Originally created 09/09/01

Who says we never use math?



Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.

- Sophia Loren

The youngest member of our household has been a little glum lately.

Mr. Math has shown up in his homework assignments.

I try to keep him positive.

"Math," I say in my best Ward Cleaver voice, "not only makes the world go round, but tells you how fast."

He doesn't even look up.

"Math is pure," I say, "precise. Your answer is either right or wrong."

He doesn't reply, he just stares at the numbers and taps his foot quickly.

"Look, it's making him nervous," his mother whispers anxiously.

"He's not nervous," I whisper back. "He's counting with his foot."

I know this because I was once a 7-year-old boy. I also suspect I gave him the bad math gene. And despite my failures in the numbers racket, math has a warm spot in my heart because it is the reason I ended up working for newspapers.

Back in the groovy 1970s, my university decided it was cool to let its freshmen put off declaring a major.

This was the era when we were supposed to be finding ourselves, and many of us found we liked to have a good time.

Whenever one of my advisers started suggesting it was time I declared a college major, I quickly either changed the subject or the adviser.

Oh, I tried. I twice took stabs at introductory calculus.

My first instructor was a Middle Eastern grad student who was fine with figures but lousy with language. I couldn't understand his accent, and after two confusing weeks I withdrew.

The next quarter I tried again. This time I got an oriental gentleman, who apologized in his first class for his lack of English skills.

I got the message. The Lord didn't want me taking calculus.

After two years, I ran out of options and finally reviewed my choices.

"Are there any majors that don't have math requirements?" I asked the counselor assigned to keep me in school and paying tuition fees.

She thumbed through her book, looked up and said, "How about journalism?"

"Really?" I asked. "How can they get away with that?"

She explained that the journalism school accepted some obscure philosophy course as a math substitute. That course, in fact, was Introductory Logic.

To my way of thinking, using philosophy in place of math seemed completely illogical, so naturally, I signed up.

I can't say my life has been any the lesser for not mastering calculus, but it has certainly been richer for taking up journalism.

I figure as long as you can count your blessings, you've got all the math you need.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344, or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.