Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Thoughts about math

I'm going to ask a seemingly incorrect question.  Why must we all like math?  Because that's the message these days.  It's as if there is something wrong with us (and this is particularly true for women), or there was something wrong with our education if we don't like math.  Why can't math be just one of those things that some people like and some people don't?  We seem to be allowed this option with just about everything else, but say you don't like math and people start wringing their hands and muttering about the state of education.

So, because I'm a bit of a reactionary, I'm just going to say it.  I don't like math.  And I'm not overly fond of numbers in general.  They just don't do a whole lot for me.  And you know what?  Just because I don't like math doesn't mean that other can't enjoy it.  Even love it.  It's fine by me that they see great beauty in numbers.  Just because I don't like something does not mean it isn't valuable or worth liking, it just means I don't like it.  I like to read.  A lot.  Great big books that last 1000 pages or more.  But I know that other people would rather clean a bathroom with a toothbrush than read a 1000 page book.  That's OK, too.

And before anyone starts pointing fingers and accusing me of a 'math phobia', I want to be clear about what I'm saying.  I can do math.  I just don't like to do it.  I took advanced honors level math classes in high school and still maintained an A average.  I didn't take any classes in college because I didn't have to.  I find no joy in doing mathematics and consequently I have to force myself to concentrate on it.  As far as I'm concerned, the calculator is one of the great inventions of our time.

I knew all this about myself, yet didn't want to prejudice my children about math.  What if one of them loved it?  I wanted to start them out on the right foot.  And so began my great experiment, though I didn't know it was at the time.  I was determined to raise children who liked... maybe even loved... math.  I bought manipulatives; curriculum which wasn't a bunch of workbook pages, but was touted as the 'natural' way to learn math; we played math games (a lot); we read about mathematicians and all the cool things they do; we read math picture books; and I never said a negative word about math or numbers and pretended that it was the most exciting thing ever.  I even tried to go through the book, Calculus for the Young Child, because of all I read about how even real mathematicians sometimes didn't care for arithmetic, but that to get to the true beauty of numbers you had to be able to move into the more theoretical realms.

The purpose of this experiment was to see if presented in the 'right' way, could anyone learn to love math.  My conclusion is that while all of this can certainly help them not to hate it, if your bent is not toward numbers, your bent won't be changed by the attitudes and curriculum which surround you.  I realize that's positively blasphemous these days, but it's what I think.  Of my oldest, the main recipients of all of this forward-thinking math instruction, one tolerates math and does it as needed.  The other?  Well, lets just say that the word 'tolerates' would be a bit of an overstatement.  They are both word people.  J. and I are both word people.  It's what we love.  It's not surprising that our children tend toward words.

Interestingly, those children who were not the recipients of my over-the-top crusade for math, and have instead worked steadily through math texts which are pages and pages of learning math facts among other things, don't mind math at all, and a couple of them actually like it.  It is also interesting that with these children, I stopped pretending to enjoy something I did not.  I decided to be truthful about what I enjoy and what I don't enjoy, but also gave them permission to like something I did not.  Honesty works.  Go figure.

So for those of you who love math... that's great.  I'm really glad that there are so many different types of people in the world and it is really necessary that some people like math.  I'm just not one of them.  Please, don't leave me a bunch of comments trying to convince me otherwise.

I'll leave you with one last bit of irony.  As a homeschooling mother, I have done more math in the last few years than in the previous ten, and.... as a result of checking endless pages of math, my math facts are stronger now than they ever have been.

6 comments:

LawMommy said...

I do not like math and I hated statistics in my graduate school career (the Ph.D. Sociology program I dropped out of when my funding was cut, probably because I hated stats), which is pretty ironic considering that I later landed a job crunching US Census Bureau stats for a private company. I am grateful that my job as a lawyer rarely involves actual math.

My son, on the other hand, loves math. He loves math so much, that, at the age of 11, I am no longer able to assist him with his math homework because I don't understand it. (Fortunately, my husband loves both numbers and words.)

I did love geometry, though. Geometry was among my most favorite classes in high school, and I note that, generally speaking, people who loved Geometry did not love other math classes...

Angie said...

I love math and consequently cannot relate to my math-challenged child. She seriously has a block when it comes to numbers. She can memorize whole books and has no problem but as soon as you put math facts in front of her she cannot remember them from one day to the next.

I think it'd be easier if it didn't all come so easily to me.

It's true that I absolutely can't stand Geometry though and I found Physics to be completely out of my reach.

Thanks for your honesty. I don't like analyzing literature one bit. I read for enjoyment and I don't try to figure out the meaning behind the book. So there. :)

thecurryseven said...

LawMommy -- I did love geometry! I love proofs because of the logic aspect. And the angles and lines were all lettered.

Angie -- I have no memory for numbers either. I think I have numbers memorized, but then they leave my head. I transpose and substitute all the time because one number sounds as correct to me as another. I can remember phone numbers that I dial a lot and my library card number because I have those associated with physical movement (pushing buttons on the phone or typing in my card number when I'm reserving books online.) I'm pretty sure that's why it's only been in the past year that I became sure I could say I have the multiplication tables memorized. Yes, I went through Alg.2 and Trig without them committed to memory. I knew it slowed me down, but they just wouldn't stick. Some problems it took nearly 40 years to finally lodge themselves in my brain. (I'm sure if I had cared more that would have helped as well.)

e

susieloulou said...

I love math, and so do some of my kids. No idea why others should aspire to! :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. Geometry is the only math I enjoyed--and I had the same teacher for Alg. 1, 2, and Geometry, so I know that didn't have anything to do with it. It's just the way my brain works. For kids #5 and 6, I am reevaluating all my old homeschool favorites, and came to the conclusion that: I still don't like math, and if they want to go beyond a good solid base, they will have to get it from somebody else. Same with sciences. We may outsource those by internet courses or something when they get to older lessons. I didn't like algebra the first time I did it, and I didn't like it any better when I did it with my olders. I did find it a little easier, though.
Joan

sandwichinwi said...

LOVE math. Loved numbers, facts, patterns. Loved Geometry too. And physics and Chemistry (because of the math!). Majored in math in college so I would write fewer papers! Seriously, that's why. And I hate literature. I am so confused by other people's words. I can read for strict enjoyment, but am very easily confused by complicated writing. Dh is a math head and 4 of our kids are math heads.

So you're right. Why is it more acceptable for me to detest literature than for you to hate math. No one has ever fretted about my word phobia.

Good thread!
Blessings, Sandwich

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