2018-08-08 / Editorials

Name a subject

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

In a couple of weeks, I head back for my fourth year as a part-time journalism instructor at the University of North Georgia, so a story I read on the AP wire recently caught my attention.

According to the story, Gallup recently conducted a poll, asking people what subject in school they wished they’d given more attention. Surprisingly — to me, at least — more than a third of respondents said math.

As a child, I struggled with math. That’s probably one reason I ended up in the profession I’m in.

Actually, I did just fine in math as long as the teacher’s stuck to numbers. I learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide, which is all I’ve ever really needed. I can balance my checkbook, and I can figure percentages, which is helpful to a reporter on election night.

Long division and fractions were impossible to understand. And when teachers started using letters in math, I was lost.

Letters should be used in English and journalism classes. Numbers should be used in math. We should never have messed with that perfect symmetry.

I don’t care what “x” is. Nothing a teacher did could get me to care. The first time an algebra teacher asked me what "x" was, I responded that it was the 24th letter of the alphabet.

My teacher wasn't amused by my witty repartee.

Coach Sam Williams was the football coach. But he also taught me algebra. Laugh if you want at the football coach teaching math, but he’s the only math teacher I’ve ever had who made algebra make sense. What little I can remember of algebra, I know because of Coach Williams.

But I don’t remember what the quadratic equation is or what it was ever used for, which is fine by me, because no one has ever asked me to explain it since my last algebra class.

I loved English, literature and social studies. But I probably should have paid more attention in math classes, because the truth is, even in a career where I mostly use words, there are times math skills come in handy. Besides, what kind of society would we be if we decided to blow off any subject that didn’t directly affect our chosen profession.

Ancient history doesn’t come up much in newsrooms, either. I can’t recall who the Punics were mad at, much less why they went to war. And I don’t care when Rome was sacked. Should have had a better offensive line.

Geography? Well, there’s a lot of sand in Africa. I learned that from Humphrey Bogart in “Sahara.”

American history? When I interviewed for this job, no one asked me anything about James K. Polk.

Chemistry? I rarely keep hydrochloric acid around the house, so I don’t have to worry about accidentally mixing it with ammonia, which I also rarely keep around the house.

OK, I’m teasing about all of that. Maybe this poll is good news. Maybe we’re beginning to understand why it’s important to have a well-rounded education, why it’s important to understand why the Roman Empire collapsed, why it’s important to understand what happened in America in the 1860s.

And I’m going to do my part to help produce well-rounded graduates. My journalism students will now have a lecture called “Math for Journalists.”

They’re going to love me.

Mitch Clarke, a native of Blakely, is the editor of AccessWDUN. com in Gainesville. He can be contacted at mitch.clarke@gmail.com. Read previous columns at www.accesswdun.com/ blog/mitch.

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