The age of social media has given us a new host for the pathogens commonly referred to as memes. Quite often these are innocuous, humorous quips that could lighten anyone's day. Unfortunately, they are also often misleading, false, and destructive. Many lie, and some, like the one that brought me to write this post, celebrate ignorance in a way that saddens me.
The specific meme that I am referencing implies that learning algebra was a waste of time. It is often posted with some comment that seems to indicate algebra is nothing more than a pointless punishment thrust upon poor school children for no other reason other than to satisfy the blood lust of an evil teacher.
Why does this upset me?
It upsets me because it not only validates ignorance, but it encourages it, it legitimizes the desire for people to not try learning it (imagine a kid at school seeing this, what is it teaching them about perseverance and education?). I get it; if you struggled with algebra, it's comforting to laugh it off as useless anyway, but this is short-sighted. Even in jest, sharing this sentiment is damaging. This comfort blanket for you might mean an under-achieved potential for your child, or someone else's. Many future and current careers use and build upon the foundations laid by algebra in school (you think Facebook was created by people who did not get algebra?). Let's not do a disservice to the next generation by perpetuating and legitimizing ignorance just so we can feel more comfortable with our own. We all use the principles of algebra, whether we recognise it or not. Reworking a recipe for four people so that it will feed two, splitting a bill in a restaurant, or working out a budget, we use algebra. It may not look like algebra because we rarely write down some equation and then tell us to "solve for X", but it is algebra all the same.
Of course, it is not just anti-algebra sentiment that is being spread by misleading or seemingly innocuous memes. There are far more egregious examples, like those that perpetuate the myths that vaccinations cause Autism or harm more people than they help. These memes have the potentially deadly effect of reducing herd immunity and putting our most vulnerable individuals at risk; those that cannot be vaccinated at all.
Memes are powerful and yet so easy to spread. Just as with viruses that affect our physiology, some memes can be incredibly damaging, like a virus to the larger organism of society. My challenge to everyone is to think before sharing a meme, to fact check, to try to ensure a damaging myth or lie is not being perpetuated, perhaps share more positive memes that encourage rather than discourage. I know that some will think I am being far too serious and want to assert that "it's just a joke", but that does not change the way I feel, nor does it change the impact that "joke" has on others. I am not asking anyone to lose their sense of humour, just to think twice and share memes responsibly. Think about who might see a meme you share, what it might mean to them, and what they might learn from it.
Thanks for reading. Learn algebra.