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5 Math Lessons You Don't Really Need in the Real World

#2. Polynomials

Polynomials are expressions where a variable is combined with coefficients and exponents in all sorts of exciting ways.


This is exciting. You should be semi-erect when reading this.

Yet despite their thrilling nature, polynomials (and their quadratic cousins) represent a pretty big roadblock for many students in high school, and everything related to them, including graphing, reducing, or just looking at them, is enough to cause a non-trivial number of people to break out into a rash.

Geek3 via Wikimedia Commons
The rate at which people become stricken by polynomial-induced rashes can probably be graphed as a polynomial, actually.

What They Say This Is Used For:

Really, polynomial relationships are fairly simple equations that show up all the time in studies of natural systems, so anyone considering a career in science, economics, statistics, or engineering will need to have a pretty good handle on what the deal is with these things.

Stockbyte/Getty Images
"OK, no, that's ... a picture of a little man humping a function? Tony, were your parents the same person?"

What a Normal Human Being Might Actually Use This For:

Nothing.

I cannot for the life of me think of the last time I've seen a polynomial equation in the real world.

RiseAboveDesign/iStock/Getty Images
This almost never happens.

And although I'm undoubtedly surrounded by polynomial equations everywhere I go, they're all but invisible to me. They don't seem to need my help being factored at all. I guess natural polynomials in the wild factor themselves? Or each other?


I'm pretty sure that's how they reproduce.

#1. Calculus

Calculus is the study of things that change, slopes of curves, and the accumulation of very, very small things. No, smaller than that. It involves the study of series, limits, infinite series, derivatives, integrals, and a whole bunch of super, super important things that I feel a little bit embarrassed to have forgotten completely about so that I could make room in my brain for other things.

Creatas/Getty Images
Dad jokes now, mainly.

What They Say This Is Used For:

Everything. Essentially every aspect of modern science and engineering is underpinned by calculus. These magic electric word boxes I'm communicating to you with? Calculus.

The porn, too. That's also calculus.

IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Images
"Thanks, calculus!"

In practice, this means that if you want to pursue any type of career in science or engineering, you'll definitely need to know at least the basics of calculus, and probably a bit beyond that.

What a Normal Human Being Might Actually Use This For:

Nothing.

It hurts to say it, because I used to actually be pretty good at calculus. In university I could rely on my calculus classes to boost my grade point average, which, in an era when my interests leaned more toward lager beer and Mario Kart, was a valuable thing indeed.

Fuse/Getty Images
"Hey, don't you have class now?"
"Yeah, but they hold those things like three times a week. I'll catch the next one."
"You ... you know it's not the same class each time?"
"Blurg?"

And although my personal trajectory, this sad descent into the joke-spewing simpleton you see now, could probably be captured quite brilliantly if I still understood calculus, I'd kind of prefer not dwelling on that, thanks.

Fuse/Getty Images
"Hey, don't you have class now?"
"I've skipped so many that I'll have no idea what they're talking about. Makes more sense to just read the text and catch up."
"Smart."
-plays Mario Kart for 18 hours, does not read text, does not pass class, becomes sad comedy writer-
"What the? Dang."


Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and encourages you to stay in school. Join him on Facebook or Twitter to learn more from his mistakes.

For classes schools actually should have, check out 16 Lessons You Wish They'd Taught In School and 21 Lessons You Wish They'd Taught in School.

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