“I just don’t get Math!”
“Well, there is no use studying math, you’re either good at it or you’re not.”
“When will I ever use this in the real world anyway?”
As a high school teacher I hear complaints about math constantly (well… I just hear many complaints period). There is this widespread general attitude towards numeracy and math as if it were some kind of magic that a few chosen practitioners can wield, while the rest of us commoners are left helpless in the dark. This is logically ridiculous, but that makes it no less a constructed reality. The sad fact is that many of us – probably a solid majority – do everything we can to stay away from math after we leave the public school system.
According to the PISA test (the most widely used international standard – and a really good baseline) Canadians aren’t that good at math to start with (depending on how you read the statistics – we’re better than the OECD average, but roughly two years of education behind Shanghai) – and we’re getting worse. When you factor in how little most of us engage with math after high school I highly doubt many of us get more comfortable with the subject.
A High Correlation Between Knowing Percentages and Understanding Interest Rates…
Interesting enough, I might be the exception to the rule. I graduated from a small school and didn’t have many comparison points with which to rank myself. My good friend was a math wizard and since graduating he has finished an engineering degree at an advanced rate while being covered under an all-expenses-paid scholarship in Europe. Compared to him I knew I wasn’t a “math person”. I didn’t intuitively engage with more abstract calculus-related concepts very easily. I did well enough with some good teaching, my friend’s help, and a lot of extra homework, but I knew I didn’t want to depend on math skills the rest of my life.
In university I got my first taste of the mainstream attitudes towards math. Because I was relatively weak in math and didn’t have a passion for it, I enrolled in a course called “Topics in Math”. Essentially it was a math course designed to get humanities majors their math and sciences requirement for their undergrad degree. I hoped that it would be relatively painless and that I could get through without harming my GPA too badly – I wasn’t a “math guy” after all. Continue Reading