‘Useless' Math: From y=mx+b to Silicon Valley Dreams

Apr 24, 2024 3:41:16 PM


A chorus often emerges on Facebook from the disgruntled masses of math students. This lament echoes through the hallways of high schools and on Beyoncé’s internet: "Another day has passed, and yet again, I did not use y=mx+b."

This attempt at humor (an irritant to math lovers like myself) is a nod to the linear equation that has become a symbol of seemingly impractical knowledge. It highlights a deeper misunderstanding—a misconception that algebra and geometry are mere intellectual gatekeepers without real-world application or merit.

Yet, this narrative fails to capture the profound and often unseen ways these mathematical principles shape our lives, careers, and even our aspirations to join the ranks of tech giants like Google, Apple, and Tesla or the opportunity to become a math tutor at BlackMathGenius.com.

Let's address this with a sports analogy that even the most math-averse individuals can appreciate. Consider the humble burpee, a staple of athletic training: on the surface, one might argue, "You'll never see LeBron James dropping for a set of burpees mid-game." And they'd be right. However, this misses the essence of the burpee's contribution.

Like y=mx+b, burpees are not the star on the court, but they lay the foundation. They build the strength, agility, and endurance that make those breathtaking dunks and swift maneuvers possible. In essence, the discipline of mathematics, much like physical training, equips us with a set of tools, a mental gymnasium, if you will, where we hone our problem-solving, logical reasoning, and analytical thinking.

In the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, where innovation is king, and the digital economy reigns supreme, the ability to think abstractly and solve complex problems is indispensable. The algorithms that power your favorite social media platforms, the encryption safeguarding your online transactions, and even the predictive models suggesting your next binge-worthy series on Netflix are all born from the mathematical principles that many roll their eyes at learning in school.

The irony, of course, is worth a long eye roll; those complaining about algebra's irrelevance on social media platforms are unwittingly paying homage to the same algorithms that y=mx + b helped to conceptualize.

But let's dive deeper into the pragmatic applications. The principles of linear equations and algebraic thinking are foundational to coding and software development, fields that are the beating heart of tech innovation. Understanding variables and functions in math translates to mastering variables and functions in programming languages such as Python, the language of choice for teaching at Black Math Genius.

The logic required to solve for ‘x’ mirrors the logic needed to debug a piece of code, like when your tech freezes and you have to restart it. In many ways, learning math is like learning the language of technology. It's about developing a mode of thinking that enables one to navigate and eventually innovate within the digital landscape—something I hope you’d want your children to be able to do.

To the naysayers who claim they'll never need the mathematics they learn, consider this: In the race to secure a coveted position at a top tech company, where the perks are many, and the salaries will allow you to not have to front on social media about wealth but have it, it's not just about coding prowess or technical skills. It's about demonstrating a capacity for complex thought, a knack for problem-solving, and a propensity for innovation. These companies aren't just looking for employees; they're scouting for the architects of the future digital world. And in the future, the principles of y=mx+b are critical.

While you may not directly apply  y=mx+b in your daily tasks, dismissing its value is akin to underestimating the burpee's role in an athlete's performance. The math we learn, much like the physical training undertaken by sports professionals, prepares us for the rigors of the professional world. It's not about the specific equations but the mental agility and analytical prowess they help us develop.

So, the next time you come across a post dissing y=mx+b, head to the comment section and type: You're not just solving for x; you're training for the marathon of innovation in the digital and AI age. And who knows? With enough practice, you might just find yourself shaping the future at a top tech company far beyond the reach of merely affording their services.

Dr. Assata Moore

Assata Moore is educator and author who advocates for educating young Black children, using math as the driving force. She believes in the supreme intelligence of Black children because she has seen it time and time again. As a teacher and principal, she traveled the world teaching other teachers how to teach Mathematics, physics, and engineering in a fun and engaging way; effective leadership; and systems and strategies for running a successful school. She has a Mathematics degree from Michigan State University where she also served as the program coordinator. In 2009, she was voted one of the top Mathematics teachers in the state of Illinois and, under the Obama Administration, Assata received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. In 2015, under the direction of Michelle Obama, she revisited the White House for a college conference initiative. Her workshops and speaking engagements are what she calls, “EduAction”. You will be educated and you will put that learning into action.

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...