Mathochism: The worthy math student
One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I learn things, and how my style of learning has at times butted against my learning environment. That environment includes everything from who is teaching the class to what materials are being used to what extra support, if any, is available when needed. If two out of three main components of that environment don’t mesh well with the way I learn, the odds are I will not do well.
But do incompatible styles mean I am not even allowed to try? Does my inability to connect with a professor or a book in a given semester mean I am not worthy of learning the subject they are teaching? Does stumbling at first mean I’m better off giving up?
And why is it that this question of worth seems to come up more often in STEM circles than in humanist ones?
As commenter PriestFriend pointed out in an earlier entry:
“Can you imagine an English professor telling a group of students, ‘If you got a D or F on your first essay, there is no hope for you. Drop out now.’ Makes my head want to explode just thinking about it.”
I know that part of the answer lies in the fact that, in math, knowledge is cumulative. Layers of knowledge build, course after course, like bricks in a wall. And a D or an F on a test would indicate cracks in a student’s wall of knowledge.
But what if those cracks are superficial, and easily grouted? What if the wall isn’t pretty, but still pretty solid?
Okay, enough with the wall metaphor.
I worry more about about a math or science teacher deeming a dedicated — but stumbling — student unworthy than about an English teacher doing the same, because in this country, being bad at math or ignorant about science or tech is a badge of honor.
(How else do we explain certain politicians/pundits who have no idea how contraceptives like the pill work?)
I wore that bad at math badge proudly for 26 years. I know many who wear it still. And yet, not one of these people who brag about their inability to calculate a tip at a restaurant would brag about being unable to read a newspaper.
Being illiterate = not okay. Being crappy at arithmetic = just fine.
People who are illiterate, but work hard to become literate, are praised for their efforts, even if they struggle. They are not deemed unworthy because they are willing to try. In fact, the greatest stigma lies in giving up.
Shouldn’t a math student be given the same courtesy?
All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.