Brett Buckner: You do use math in the real world ... if grad school is the real world
by Brett Buckner
Special to The Star
Aug 25, 2013 | 2587 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I’ve got to get something off my chest that’s been festering for more than 30 years.

I hate math … hate it, hate it, hate it. For as long as I’ve been able to count my 10 fingers and 10 toes, math in all its forms and tortuous levels has been the bane of my academic existence. I got lost somewhere around long division and simply never caught up.

Tutors were exasperated. Extra homework went ignored. Staying after school only punished my mother for having to pick me up and remedial classes made me feel dumber than simply failing the regular classes.

To most young men in high school, the most dreaded phrase uttered by a female was “we need to talk.” For me it was “show your work,” uttered by my 10th grade algebra teacher.

Heck, I’d still be in high school if it weren’t for the fact that my geometry teacher also happened to referee my basketball games and was tired of giving me technicals. He decided to pass me rather than deal with me another season.

I was the kid in the back of the class shouting, “when are we ever gonna use square root in the real world?” And here is the nasty secret kids — you don’t. OK, you do if you choose to work for NASA, go into accounting or become a writer for “The Big Bang Theory.” Otherwise, nope … never … ever.

For me, math just didn’t compute (although it did give me the opportunity for a truly bad pun). I tried to understand. I really did. But I had some sort of mental block. The harder I tried, the more frustrated I became. Rules and tricks poisoned my dreams. I’d wander down the halls of my tiny school the morning before a test muttering “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” But no matter what I tried, it simply didn’t click.

I was still taking pre-algebra in college. As soon as I graduated, I vowed to spend the rest of my life in avoidance of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing anything. Good thing I loved to write, because it made steering clear of numbers easy. And if there ever was a need, I was fortunate enough to marry a woman who loved math and got all giddy when asked to figure out the sale price on dress shirts at Old Navy.

“So if it’s 20 percent off a $35 shirt, how much will it cost?” ($28 — thanks, honey).

The only time I’ve ever needed even the slightest of math skills is when figuring a tip — and I’m not embarrassed to use my fingers (OK, a little embarrassed). But you needn't have paid attention in fifth grade because now there’s an iPhone app for that. They don’t call 'em Smart Phones for nothin’.

Nope, never needed math … until now. Turns out it’s been lurking there in the shadows all these years, like something out of Lord of the Rings, just waiting for me to come calling.

I’m going back to school to get my master’s degree and if that weren’t trial enough, first I’ve gotta take the GRE. Including the math section. So for the past three weeks, I’ve been cramming like a freshman before a James Joyce final.

Now I know how Sisyphus felt only, rather than a rock, I’ve got integers, quadratic equations, variables and isosceles triangles rolling back to crush me.

I do have a few days left for a math miracle — but something tells me past sins won’t add up to a decent grade.

Contact Brett Buckner at

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