Friday, February 20, 2009

The Problem With Math

The problem with math begins as soon as you decide you are an English person. All of a sudden, you find yourself aligned with the English/History/Humanities group and anything number-related, by default, has now become your arch-nemesis.

"I hate math!" I remember declaring to myself and to anyone who would listen. At one point, I had read a book in which the main character, upon starting middle school, hated both math and her math teacher. I figured that was what one was supposed to do when starting middle school, so my entrance to seventh grade was also the beginning of my real math aversion. I don't remember having real difficulties with math before, but suddenly math was most definitely not my thing. I would argue every little point with my teacher, trying to prove how it just didn't make sense. The truth was, some of this was genuine math/english friction. It wasn't that I couldn't do math, it was that I didn't like not understanding what I was doing. I didn't like meaningless formulas. And my teacher never sufficiently explained what things meant. I kept asking her how it was possible to multiply something by a negative number - especially multiplying two negative numbers and coming out with a positive. It didn't make sense to me to have negative five and then multiply that not ten times and come out with fifty! Huh?!*

In eighth grade, the girl who sat behind me asked if she could cheat off of me during a test. I remember being incredibly baffled. Cheat off of me? But I hate math! Math is not my thing. Do I have to make it any clearer? You will not get the right answers if you cheat off of me. Aside from the fact that I'm vehemently against cheating, the idea of cheating off of me in math seemed like sheer idiocy!**

I have no idea how well I actually did in math. I just know that I hated it.

...Except I didn't really hate it. I didn't have any particular issues with it. In tenth grade, I even allowed myself to like logic proofs. I loved logic. It was my favorite part of math.

In eleventh grade, I actually did hate math. For real this time. We were doing trig and for those of you who suffered through trig as I did, you'll probably know what I mean when I say that it frustrated me to not be able to understand what a sine, cosine, or tangent was. And when I asked, I didn't want some equation thrown at me. I wanted a real answer. I did not like having to use some button on a calculator I did not at all understand in order to figure out things I didn't even care about. Who cared about any of that stuff anyway? Certainly not me. When would I ever need to figure out the sine of something in real life? What the heck does a sine even mean?

That is why I loathed trig.

This past summer, I went to visit D2 in the city and we got into a whole long discussion about infinity. I found it all fascinating. I even remember saying it would make such a great blog post. To that, D2 replied, "it's all calculus."


That confused me. Here was an English major who hated math her whole life (with the exception of logic proofs, of course) and now she was involved in an extremely fascinating discussion about calculus. How?!?!

You know, I think a lot of things we think we don't like are things that we possibly just don't understand. Either we had a bad teacher or we weren't ready to learn something yet or we went in with a prejudice that we weren't supposed to like something. You ever have that? You go into a class where most people don't like the teacher and you find yourself kind of liking her but you keep it to yourself because, I mean, no one likes her, why on earth do you? Or how about, for the English people out there, if you've ever read a book when you were younger, hated it, read it again in college and loved it? I know that's happened to me more than once. Just because you have the capabilities to read more mature books at a young age doesn't mean you have the maturity to properly approach the issues it deals with. That's why it's good sometimes to shed your prejudices from when you were younger and come at something old with new eyes. You'll be surprised how your understanding and opinions might change.

I'm not saying I all of a sudden like math. I'm just saying that teachers, circumstance, and maturity have a lot to do with what we like and don't like as a kid. And sometimes that can change when we're older. Sometimes we think we don't like something because we've convinced ourselves we don't, but we haven't really given it a chance, in truth. As our understandings of the world change, I think it's good to give old things a new try. In general. (No, I don't want to start doing math. I'm just using it to make a point.)

*Actually, now I think I get it. If you owe five dollars, that's -5, so if you don't owe five dollars ten times, you end up with fifty dollars more than if you had owed five dollars ten times. Yeah?

**Also, if a person was going to cheat off of me, I would not want to know about it. I hate cheating, and what's more, there's nothing in it for me to move my paper on a desk so the girl behind me can see it except the possibility of getting caught. But I think cheating is absolutely vile and I don't understand how a person could live with herself if she hasn't really achieved by her own merit the grades and accomplishments people judge her by. It's good for your self-worth not to cheat, not to think you have to use someone else as a crutch in order to achieve. You can do it on your own if you put in the effort. Really.


Ezzie said...

There is so much to be said on this, but who has the time?! Instead:

I'm not saying I all of a sudden like math.

Chas v'shalom! :)

Richard Lewis said...

Hello from a complete stranger surfing around. I guess the math cheating is kind of like the various degrees of infinity, because just have you can have a second degree of infinity that is infinitely greater than the first degree of infinity, so you can have cheaters who need cheating help to an infinite degree more than the normal people who need cheating help but don't cheat...did I make sense? But thanks for the post!

Scraps said...

I didn't hate math until geometry (with the exception of logic proofs, which I liked, and I still don't understand why they're put together with geometry). I loathed trig. Pre-calc...well, let's just say, I never finished pre-calc.

I'm good at arithmetic. I was even decent at algebra. I just got stuck later on.

corner point said...

It's sorta like coffee.

When you're a kid, you think it tastes gross, but when you get older, you start realizing it kinda tastes nice......and then you get so used to it you can't imagine a day without.

Get ready, Erachet. The day might come that you'll start craving math......


LittleBirdies said...

I always loved math. It just made sense. I also had amazing teachers who really explained it. No, I didn't always do well, but I loved the concepts. It must be genetic, because my almost 6 year old is doing basic multiplication, division, and fractions and is pretty good at addition and subtraction.