Why Jared and Brittany will never be good at math.1

Jared “simplified” \frac{1+x}{x}=1 in algebra class.

His math teacher asked how he got that. “Easy!” said Jared. “Just cancel the x’s.” Jared was pretty sure he was becoming skilled at canceling.

“But what if you put x=1 into \frac{1+x}{x}?” the teacher asked Jared. “The result would be 2, not 1.”

Brittany jumped into the conversation: “You can’t do that, because x isn’t a number.”

Jared nodded enthusiastic agreement. “That’s it,” he said. ‘This is algebra, and x is – part of algebra. It’s not a number, like Brittany says.”

“But it is a number,”  replied the teacher.

“Well what number is it?” asked Brittany.

“No, no,” said the teacher. “It’s not any particular number. It stands for a possible number. It’s a variable”

“Then what possible number does it stand for?” asked Jared, getting into the swing of it.

“How can it be a number if it’s a variable?” asked Brittany (dripping with sarcasm).

They knew their math teacher was a little odd, but even they were surprised when she banged her head hard, several times, against the wall, and walked out of the room


  1. Is this a real conversation, or a new story?

    Shall we comment on how the teacher might help them, or …?

    I want to argue with your title. They can be good at math if given useful encouragement and experiences. I think they need to see the necessity of variables. visualpatterns.org is one good way to start.

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