When I hear people say, “Oh, I don’t how to do math, it’s too hard.”, I have this look of “Really?” on my face and I unconsciously roll my eyes. Not because what they’ve convinced themselves isn’t true, but because it’s become such a common saying these days that I seriously wonder what people are learning in schools these days. First and foremost, it’s NOT cool to walk around saying such a ridiculous thing. If it’s unacceptable for a person to walk into a job and say they can’t read, it should be equally unacceptable for a person to walk around with an “I’m a mathematical dunce” badge of honor.
Full disclosure, I went to college to obtain an engineering degree and have been trained to do complicated calculus equations, differential equations and a good degree of physics, but loved business so much that I changed my major my 3rd year and got a degree in Economics – which I was taking as a minor before making it my major. I’m proud to say that I’m a nerd, a geek or whatever they call people these days. So, I am truly biased about the subject. However, that’s a good thing. Because for every person that hails the literary works of William Shakespeare or Robert Frost, there should be as many that hail the mathematical brilliance of Isaac Newton or Godfey Hardy.
The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment released a study that placed American teens 25th amongst their peers in 34 countries in mathematics. Maybe it’s me, but that’s not good. I’m of the opinion that when some kids hear their parents talk about their fears of math, they internalize that. Coupled with some ineffective styles of teaching math and making it interesting, this has become an epidemic to the point where it’s socially acceptable for math to be considered among the horror heavy weights of Jason Voorhees and the Boogey Man.
After reading an article in the New York Times this summer about getting rid of arithmetic in schools, I realized how serious this issue was becoming. I agree with one thing though, it’s not that arithmetic is being taught, unfortunately it just may not be taught in an effective manner. However, I will not ride on any roads, go into any buildings, ride across any bridge or put my money with any account manager that hasn’t had EXTENSIVE years of learning and mastering arithmetic. Go ahead and see what happens when your decimal point is one tenth too far to the right in constructing a bridge.
I remember being in line at a toy store and the lady in front of me was trying to figure out how much the tax on her purchase was going to be. At the time, I lived in Virginia and the sales tax was only 5%. She was buying her little boy a bike and the sales price was $99.99. Simple math says that the sales tax was going to be $5. Now, I don’t know why she was so pressed to know what the amount was going to be, but she was and after about a few minutes of her counting up to around $60, I leaned over to her and told it was going to only be $5. The look of relief on her face masked her embarrassment of not knowing how to calculate 5% of basically $100.
Another time, my wife and I were at a Bob Evans, in Maryland, in line to pay for our food after a delicious breakfast. In front of us were a father and his son, who appeared to be around 6 years old. The boy had picked out a toy for himself and his little sister at home. The father reminded him that he had only $10 in is account and that the two items he was going to buy was going to be pretty close to spending all of his money. The boy, unflinching, thought that was okay because he really wanted to buy a gift for his sister. The father then asked him, “If the tax is 6%, how much will the total price of your purchase be?” The boy thought for a second and correctly told his father the answer. Proudly, the father paid for the purchases and left the restaurant.
This moved Chantel and I greatly. What the father was doing was instilling the building blocks that would propel the son for the rest of his life. It’s why in our house, math isn’t the Boogeyman, it’s a part of life. My daughters have to struggle to learn to read a book. They have to struggle to learn science. They have to struggle to learn the arts, and they will struggle to learn mathematics. The struggle isn’t the problem, it’s giving up the fight to learn. Lela LOVES math and Niara is having a great time following in her sister’s footsteps and surprised us all when she recently counted to 17 without any previous instruction from my wife. However, she was listening to her older sister’s instruction and INTERNALIZED her mother and sister’s excitement for learning.
There’s no shame or dishonor in learning to add, subtract, multiply, divide, know exponentials, understand logarithms, integrate, reduce terms or solve binomial equations with ease. These are the BASICS of comprehensive learning and understanding and I believe many parents truly set a lower standard when they consider it an option instead of making it mandatory. Set the bar high and see how far your children can fly.
It can no longer be cool to be the mathematical fool.