I knew from an early age (when I realized I could blend my crayons together on the page to create colors that weren’t in the box) that I wanted to be an artist. This knowledge brought me great relief as, with each passing year of school, I grew to hate math more and more. I enjoyed most other subjects, but as far as I was concerned, math was the antithesis of all things good, creative, and artistic. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need to care about math. I just needed to pass.
I have many memories of myself crying as my dad, an engineer, tried to help me understand my homework. When understanding it proved impossible, we settled for memorizing the parts I needed to know to pass the tests. I remember begging him to tell my WHY. I wanted to know why the equations had to be that way. Who decided that the quadratic equation should be so complicated? And most of all, why do I need to know this if I’m never going to use it in my life? I think he tried convincing me that it’s impossible to know at a young age what you want to be when you grow up, so you need to know math in case someday you want to use it. This was a ridiculous argument to me. If that was the case, then I could just decide right there and then that I would NEVER do anything that required math. Case closed.
And to this day, I stand firm. I have never, and will never pursue a career that involves higher level math. I think I can say with certainty that, at almost 40, I will never need to know calculus to get through the rest of my life successfully.
However, I’ve just realized a great truth. In learning to solve those equations, I was learning how to solve problems. Not the math problems, because I never truly “learned” those. I was learning how to keep going when something is hard. How to ask for help when you need it. And how to understand when you’ve learned just enough to get the job done and move on to the next problem. Now THAT is a skill that you’ll use all your life.
Last week I was working on this blog and ran into an unsolvable HTML problem. I know nothing about HTML coding, and was about to give up when I tried a Google search to see if anyone else had ever solved this problem. Of course, many people had and one of them even had a simple way of explaining it to me. Do I understand HTML coding now? No. But now I know where to go to get the answer to the next unsolvable problem. Just like I did so many years ago with my dad, I’ll ask for help. I may not understand the “why” of the answer, but I’m getting pretty good at finding the right thing to plug into the equation, to get to the answer.
I’ve always been haunted by the thought of what I’ll say when (or if) my kids ask me, through their tears, why they have to learn this? Now I can tell them honestly that they are learning skills for life, even if their life does not include higher math. Hopefully, it won’t take them till their late 30’s to understand what I mean.