Wednesday, 28 May 2014

There are 3 kinds of people in this world


There are 3 kinds of people in this world
28 May 2014

It seems pretty obvious to me, that there are three kinds of people in this world.

Those who are good with maths.  And those who aren’t.

Old joke, I know.  In fact, a very old joke.  But how funny and how true.

In the traditional schooling system, a lot of emphasis is placed on Mathematics.  And I get that it is important.

But it shouldn’t define the kid.  It’s not who they are.  It’s simply an ability they either have, or don’t have.

In the same manner, some kids can draw and others can’t.  Some people can sing.  And some just really shouldn’t.

I find it interesting watching my three very different kids and both their approach to mathematics and their ability at it.

For some it’s easier than for others.  And they all have to work at it.  Some grasp a concept once and then have it forever more.  And for others, I can alternately see the light going on and then switching off.

So much self-confidence and personal perception of their own intelligence is placed on mathematical ability or acuity.  And it’s not really fair.  The same value and measure is not placed on sense of humour, emotional intelligence, social awareness and skills.  Things that are actually of far greater importance in real ife, than the mere ability to grasp fractions, trigonometry or algebra.  It’s actually a silly and very elitist approach to intelligence.  Most likely promoted by people who can do maths.  And a fairly narrow minded approach at that.  Only tapping into a certain type of child.  A certain type of person.  Not giving an accurate depiction of skills, that would really get them further in life.

My eldest is most likely the best of my lot when it comes to maths.  But he has to concentrate and apply his knowledge.  He often complains and whinges about why has to learn certain stuff in maths.  Of what importance is it?  And he is fond of saying, “I’m never ever going to use this stuff again when I’ve finished school and I’ve got a job.  Do you even remember what you did in maths in matric?  Do you ever use or need it?”

To which I can give him the only truthful answer, “No”.

But I’ve tried to explain this to him.  And I think I might even be right.  Learning maths at school, and especially in high school, is not about the actual equations you are doing.  It’s not about Algebra, Geometry or even Trigonometry.  It’s not important what the value of “x” is.  Nor does it matter what the volume of a cube is.  Or the square root of whatever.  It’s actually not the point at all.

I think it’s about exercising a muscle.  Of tapping into the problem solving and analytical side of your brain.  Of following a series of proven steps, in a certain order.  It’s about following certain basic rules and applying them.  It’s training your brain, to think in a specific way.  Like making muscle memory.

It is true that I haven’t directly applied what I learnt in maths at school in my everyday life.  Or not most of it in any rate.  The bits I apply directly, I learnt in the first few years of primary school.  Working out how much my groceries are going to cost.  Following a recipe and assuring that I have the correct ingredients volumes and masses.  Telling the time.  Accurately calculating how much time it would take me to get from point A to point B, taking into account traffic, red robots, poor visibility due to bad weather, actual distance, etc.  Basic stuff like that. 

However, more abstractly, it taught me to read something more than once.  To ensure that I looked at it from all different angles.  To be analytical.  To be methodical.  To be logical.  To not give up.  To push on and keep trying.  To try and tap into past experience.  To see if I had patterns or rules I could follow.  That there was usually more than one way to get to the correct answer.  And that there always was an answer.  There was a finite number which was magic at the end of each equation or problem.  Very much like real life.

And so perhaps I do use maths every day.  In hundreds of different ways.

I was NOT good at maths as a child.  I just got by.  Scraping at times. 

And looking back, I think I know what went wrong.  I did music at school.  And back in the day, especially in Primary School, music was a bonus extra subject.  Music lessons had to be fit into an already busy school day.  And thus, us music kids, were simply taken from our classes and taken to music lessons every so often – usually about twice a week..  I think for the most part, the powers that be scheduled us into the “freebie” class periods.  Like PT, Library, etc.  But quite often, we had the same teacher for most subjects, and they didn’t really stick to class periods.  At any given point, in any given day, our class teachers would do maths.  And if you were not in the class at the time, you quite simply missed out.

Maths is a little bit like construction.  When you build a house, you start with a foundation.  Certain concepts build on one another.  But you first need to cement a solid base.  If you were absent, or missed the base, your whole structure would be wobbly at best.  And though I took maths until matric and passed it, it certainly was not my strength.  I’d missed some bits on the way up.

The irony being, that one of my subjects in my first year of varsity was Statistics.  Now it’s not straight maths, I know.  But it’s a whole subject, dedicated to numbers, their relation to each other, and what they tell us about the world.  Many, many formulas.  I was petrified that I would quite simply flunk straight off the bat.  Was there even any point in trying?  In attempting to give it a go?  But sadly for me, no other subjects matched my course and it was a requirement for my degree.  I just had to try.

And so because I was so scared, I never missed a class.  Never missed a project or assignment.  Did revision often.  And during my three years at varsity, it was the only subject I ever received a Cum Laude for.  Who would’ve guessed?

Building blocks are clearly important.  And no matter what you do later in life, you will be using mathematic skills, you never even realised you picked up along the way.

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1 comment:

  1. Why does it take so long for us to realise these things?

    But you did good!
    I do not like that kids who are not strong in Maths are made to feel stupid!
    Always thought there should be a course like Literacy is today.