Intimidation by Math

From my background in engineering, a certain level of math was required. I did very well in calculus, especially. Many of my classmates joked that once we finished calculus we lost the ability to count. It’s more likely that we had little practice counting when we were busy integrating the volume of a mug or other random object.

I find it interesting that so many people in our society are math-phobic. They refuse to see where they use math, ask questions like ‘what good is algebra in everyday life,’ and shy away from anything as complicated as long division. I also find it sad, though.

Math is like another language. Music is similar in that way. Some people understand it, and others don’t. The difference between speaking Math and speaking French – to someone who doesn’t know either – is one seems ‘geeky’ and the other seems ‘educated’. By the word ‘seems’ I mean that people view the person in a way, not that they actually are.

Some days I want to write a book to explain why math is beautiful, how it changed our society, and what wonderful things we can do because of it. I also want people to remember how they use it even when they think they’re not.

Common card and board games? Cooking from recipes? Paying bills? Maybe paying bills isn’t fun, but we’re required to do it, and all these things and more need math.

The question that’s really on my mind is: where did the fear of math come from and why is that fear embraced by so many?

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3 Comments

  1. Jamie said,

    4 March 2009 at 09:18

    Carpenters, the good ones anyway, use more algebra than anyone I know. Most of them don’t realize they are doing it.

  2. Shawn said,

    4 March 2009 at 16:12

    I believe that it is a learned attitude.

    You are right that Math is a skill, like language.
    Not everyone has an instant aptitude for it.
    I believe that if it is difficult early on to grasp that 1+1=2, that many children will associate the difficulty/frustration with learning the skill forever.

    It is also difficult to raise a child’s understanding, or hope for future greatness with math out of the frustration of just answering the next problem correctly. A person who is stuck with trying to just make it through the day doesn’t see the possibility of their helping to constuct a bridge in the future as much of an incentive.

    So, we allow people who aren’t good at math to be not good. We require them to meet a minimum competancy and give up there.
    And even THAT is a struggle for some of them, which they then pass on to their children, or others that they meet. Effectively teaching others that Math is hard.

    Heck, lets go shopping, that doesn’t involve MATH.

  3. Dawn Embers said,

    4 March 2009 at 21:03

    It probably doesn’t help that some school’s don’t teach math very well. Some have questioned university math departments as to the reasons for their high fail rate. At my university math is the highest failed class, and that’s the levels of college algebra and lower. They even added a philosophy class to count for math (Deductive Logic) but that class isn’t easy.

    I like math, even though I didn’t take many math classes in college. I wish I had a little bit cause then I could have gotten to the higher maths.

    Math is awesome! šŸ˜‰


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