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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Don't Cry for Me

My love of math and science is no secret to those who know me. Friends call me up at all hours, asking me to answer questions or settle bets regarding all manner of things. I am the Phone a Friend. At least, that's how it works with those who have come to love me. The reaction from strangers is quite different.

I've noticed lately, and especially at work, that the discovery of my mathematical predilections is normally accompanied by a wince and/or head tilt. As soon as I mention that I am majoring in math and physics, I am treated as though I've announced a death in the family. "Oh, I'm sorry," they say. Or my personal favorite, "So you're one of those." Usually, I laugh it off, and use it as an opportunity for research. I ask why they feel that way. Why is they're fear and loathing of math so complete that someone else's involvement causes them pain? I find the conversations fruitful, if not more than a bit repetitious.

The respondent almost always remembers loving math as a small child. They can usually pinpoint an exact year or teacher which soured them on their studies. Often times, they remember being told by a teacher that math was simply not for them. It is at that point that I am able to commiserate. In my junior year of high school, after having taken all honors math classes, my teacher told me one day that I simply lacked the "flare for math." It galls me that people who would say such things are allowed to teach any subject at all, let alone such a notoriously tricky one.

I know now, and I continuously attempt to impart to my friends, that math class is not terribly different from shop class. Both are all about tools and toolboxes. Math class is no more about mathematics than wood shop is about craftsmanship and design. Just because you can hammer a nail does not make you an architect, nor does hating long division mean you are cosmically predestined to avoid math. This is a fact that is lost on most students, and too many teachers, and it is one that bears constant reminder. Students must be given a glimpse of the horizon so that they have something to journey toward. Otherwise, we are asking them to practice for a championship game that will never come.

7 comments:

Mackenab said...

Oooh... Which teacher was that in your junior year? I'm just curious...

H. said...

Ouch. I have a student who says she hates math, who says it is incredibly disagreeable to her to do math - and who loves Chemistry and says she'd like to be a scientist if there weren't so much math involved. She also had a math teacher in upper elementary who told her that she just didn't get math.

But she really does get it. Her skills in computation and equation solving aren't great - they make you think she hasn't had much practice - but she picked up newer stuff, graphing, transformations of graphs, with great ease compared to most classmates. She seems to get the "big ideas" more readily than the rote skills stuff - unlike the majority of the students. My goal is that she'll be able to like math - if just a little - by the end of the year.

Tony said...

The teacher was also a golf coach, if that rings a bell, Allen.

Andy said...

For whatever his faults, that golf coach was a heck of a lot nicer to me than the Mutzinator. I also got some of my best math grades in his class.

lost clown said...

I get the same thing along with the infamous, and I know a favourite of yours, "i hate math."

Lucky for me I got over my "hatred" of math, but that was mostly due to intense prodding from a physics prof i had for a fairly non-math intensive physics course who always pulled me aside to tell me that I am a scientist. Glad I listened.

I love my classes, like h's student, the big picture stuff and the advanced classes are so much easier for me to understand then the earlier stuff.

I bet you could do something to help her h, you'd be surprised at how much a teachers confidence can convince someone that they indeed are good at something they think they aren't good at.

Darren said...

It's simple closed-mindedness.

darkerskin said...

one of my dreams is to know math...and be smart. i do well in artbut am just like boof! i feel dumb