Sam Venable  

Department of Irony

Schools are back in session all over the country. And, as usual, education leaders are worried sick because our students can’t keep pace with kids from other countries in the study of mathematics.

Pfft! Don’t worry, I say.

American students still lead in important categories like football, basketball, cheerleading, prom, and the senior play. So what if they can’t add two plus two and come up with five? (Or is it seven? Wait, three! Geez, that question always stumps me.)

You want to know why American students can’t get the hang of add-subtract-multiply-divide? It’s because teachers stick with the same-old, same-old: “If Johnny has two apples and someone gives him four more, how many apples does Johnny have?”

Borrr-ing! (Besides, the teacher didn’t realize Johnny has an apple allergy and had to be rushed to the hospital. Now she’s worried about losing her job and being sued.)

Educators need to spice up their approach. Get with the times. Make their examples relevant. If I were in charge of math tests, I’d use something like this:

First question: 

Using his father’s credit card, Seth buys five tickets to a Justin Bieber concert at the face price of $150 each. He keeps two—one for himself and one for Ruth Anne Quigglewart, who is hotter than a depot stove and would do anything to see Justin Bieber live. Seth scalps the other three tickets—one for $175 to Junior Romines, one for $200 to LeRoy Bushberry, and one for $215 to Bruno Jawsmashki.

Calculate the percentage of markup for each of the scalped tickets. In addition, determine Seth’s profit, less the $100 doctor bill he rung up after LeRoy and Bruno realized what a bargain Junior got and stomped Seth’s guts in the parking lot. Also, how many days after his Visa statement arrived did Seth’s father realize those tickets were on his account?

Second question: Steve leaves home at 7:26 a.m. and walks three-tenths of a mile to the bus stop, with an average stride of two feet, seven inches, into a wind of six mph. Bill leaves home at 7:32 a.m. and walks two-tenths of a mile to the bus stop with an average stride of two feet, five inches, with a five mph wind at his back.

Determine the number of Red Bulls and Blueberry Pop Tarts each had to consume during breakfast to supply the calories needed to fuel his respective journey.

Third question

 The back window on the second floor of the school library is twenty-six feet off the ground. The principal’s new convertible is parked six feet, four inches from the building. The bottom limb of a Bradford pear growing ten feet, eight inches from the right front fender of the car covers fourteen percent of the surface area of the vehicle.

Calculate the saliva pressure (in pounds per square inch), plus angle of arc, required to propel the juice from a half-pinch of Skoal toward a direct hit on a point triangulated by the antenna, steering wheel, and left rear stereo speaker.

Fourth question:

Madelyn, Stephanie, Caitlin, Heather, and Brittany each go to different stores to buy a dress for the big dance. Each has a budget of $350, but the actual amount spent decreases by 7.3 percent per student, respectively, starting with Stephanie.

Determine the odds that each will show up at the dance wearing exactly the same outfit. Extra credit: What is the diameter of the gonzo zit that will erupt on Brittany’s nose the morning of the dance?

Fifth question

The school’s grounds-keeper applies 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of .002-ounces per square yard across the surface of the football field, both end zones, plus a border 15 feet wide on either side of the field in the red zone. Each stem of grass produced by this effort grows at an average rate of .039 inch per day during the first month of the season.

How deep a crater will be formed when the goalposts come crashing down after the home team is shellacked, 45-0, by the homecoming patsy?

Trust me, teachers. Give your students a few doses of this kind of math, and they’ll all be Phi Beta Kappas.

Sam Venable is an author, standup comedian, humor columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, and a member of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. His latest book is “WARNING! This Product Contains Nuttiness!” He may be reached at