The orphanage door was locked and the only way to open the door was to punch in a cryptic key, the deranged design of an eccentric locksmith.
The key was a zero of a quartic equation displayed above the door, a labyrinth of logic for your average citizen.
As smoke billowed from the rooftop, firefighters were unable to get inside to rescue the children.
The fire chief yelled out, “Quick! We need to know how to determine the x-intercepts for this quartic!”
Fortunately, I was ready, armed with the algebraic knowledge that allowed me to recognize the quadratic form embedded in the esoteric equation. I quickly derived the root, entered the key and rescued the children!
OK, so this didn’t really happen. I’m still waiting for my chance to be an algorithmic hero, but I’m sure that one day, knowing how to factor a polynomial will be a life-changing event.
When studying new concepts, my math students always ask, “What am I going to ever use this for? What good is it?”
I could tell them, “Well, it keeps me employed,” but if that were really the reason, I’d be the first to say we shouldn’t teach it!
So why do we study math? Or more to the geometric point, why do we study the math we study?