Math administers more than pure calculations

Al Solecki, columnist

Good for you! You’ve voluntarily begun reading something that has the word “math” in it! Honestly even getting this far is a feat. Go you! Obviously some people truly love math, and that’s awesome, but for others it is the complete opposite.

Math. The Blob, the Gremlin, the Babadook lurking in the shadows. It’s something that haunts you at your desk and blemishes your Powerschool home screen. If that’s you, you’re probably not even thrilled to be reading this. However, I just want to share with you why math can be incredibly beautiful, and why it’s worth putting yourself through the struggle of learning it.

Math, in general, is all about relationships. It’s about looking at something–a data table, a graph, a series, a physical motion–and trying to see the codes behind it. Formulas, while they seem to make everything more complex and over-garnished, are really just our way of peeling back what we see with our eyes and figuring out what’s really going on.

Surprisingly (or not), a lot more is going on than we might notice upon first glance. Last year, after leaving my calculus classroom, I went to English and was surprised to find that the activity we were doing was incredibly mathematical.

We were asked to read a passage and analyze what exactly the author did with his words–how he arranged them, which words he used, the punctuation–and explain what we can derive about the meaning of the passage from the structure of the writing. In other words, how do these snapshots in time–a word, a sentence structure–reveal a trend about where the author is trying to take us?

That’s calculus. Looking at a snapshot in time–a coordinate point–and asking it to tell you about where the graph is going. Finding the significance and implications of a single word choice or punctuation in a passage is like looking for the tangent line and imagining where you could be going based on where you are.

I think one reason kids tend to dislike math so much is because it’s easy to separate yourself from the utility of it. Maybe you’re not “going into” math; so why are you torturing yourself with it, right?

I’d argue that learning math–like learning anything–just makes you a better thinker. It’s mental gymnastics. It’s relationships. It’s about teaching yourself how to learn, how to think and how to analyze. Since that day in English, the things we do in other classes have seemed more meaningful because I’m able to draw connections that, if nothing else, are just beautiful to notice.

It’s hard to convince someone to like something because whether or not you like something is entirely your decision–and frankly, not really a priority of mine. What I’d hope we all might be able to do, however, is not give up on learning something just because it’s not what personally interests us the most.

Any time you’re doing something that makes you uncomfortable, you’re growing, and you never know where that growth might take you.