Nerdy Stuff


My students seem to think that I’m some sort of uber-nerd.  While I reject that assertion, it’s not because I reject the negative connotation, but rather that I can only hope that my scholarship could reach that pedestal.

In my College Algebra class, I chided the students, “Only 25% of you got the quiz question right.  It seems that you’re trying to MEMORIZE the distance formula instead of UNDERSTAND why it was constructed.  The ‘formula’ has a bunch of subscripts and signs.  I’m losing you in the subscripts and signs.  I advocate that if you recognize the Pythagorean Theorem and if you know how to count, you won’t have to memorize a new formula.”  A student asked, “It’s going to be the right number if we count the spaces?”  “Yes, the formula was constructed to cause you to get arithmetically the same number as counting spaces.  When part of the formula says (x(sub2)-x(sub1)), that’s just math code for ‘count the horizontal spaces.’”

Later, the textbook instructed them to manipulate (in a calculator) a kind of function that they had not seen.  “I know that this is not exactly what you’ve seen before, but think about all of the similarities with the problems that you HAVE seen.  Format it so that it is easy and common place.”  I wrote the same problem in a simplified form.  “What do you do with this one?”  They answered correctly.  “Okay, then do that same stuff to this one.  See?  You really DO know what to do with these!”

I continued, “Later this semester, I’m going to give you problems like this…”  I showed them another complexity of the same problem. “…and I will expect you to identify the similarities to the simplified problem again.”  We worked it together.  Suddenly, the moans turned into ohs of satisfaction.  One student said, “That was a LOT easier than I thought it was going to be!”  I said, “THAT’S what I’ve been trying to tell you guys.  This stuff can be really, really easy!  Just don’t be afraid of it.  Work towards understanding the construction of algebra instead of memorizing specific cases.”

The next (rainy) day, I took my kids to the indoor playground at Chick-fil-A while I used the wifi to create College Algebra course materials.  Three complete strangers saw the textbook, approached me, and bewailed the course.  “I hated that class!  That was the worst 2 years of my life!”  (This reminds me of one of my favorite sitcom scenes ever—Mad About You, Ep Moody Blues, where the stranger tells Helen Hunt, “This is my WEDDING HAIR.”  I think my initial reaction to this guy was the same expression that Helen Hunt had.) “Um, I’m sorry?”  I told him as I shoved another bite into my mouth to keep from pointing out that the course lasts 4 months instead of 2 years.  Oh, my!  Another said, “I took that several years ago.  I’m SO glad that’s over! Blech!”  A third said, “Oh, DEATH to that class!  It KILLED me.  I picked an MA program based on which one didn’t require the GMAT because I hated that stuff so much.”

Let me guess, you approached the class as a memorization of formulas that you promptly flushed out of your brains after finals?  Uh, huh.

When I first started teaching, I was a little concerned that I had not picked a lucrative skill.  I was afraid that people would figure out that algebra is quite easy and not need me anymore.  I was mistaken.  As long as people perpetuate the idea that math is hard and that algebra is exclusively memorization of useless formulas and computation of large quantities, I have job security.  As long as they are tethered to the idea that algebra is a completely unattainable skill set, they will bathe themselves in fear instead of the power of accomplishment.  While I jest about my job security, it’s still very sad that most people will refuse to divorce the idea that math is beyond their aptitude.  As long as they do that, I cannot show them the beauty that I see in it.

My husband asked me what I was mumbling.  He said, “You just said ‘hate,’ and ‘school.’  Were they part of the same thought?”  He’s referring to my “thought leakage” where I mumble bits and pieces of thoughts.  He tries to put them back together as one thought, but they may or may not be from the same idea.  He was asking if I hated school (or if maybe I was thinking that I hated beets and saw a school of fish).  Not yet forming full sentences and suddenly realizing that thoughts had leaked out where he could hear them, I responded, “Inadequate.”

I feel inadequate as an educator.  I’m tired of students complaining out loud about my methods and other students privately thanking me for my innovative and helpful methods.  I’m tired of students saying that I don’t spend enough time lecturing in the face of other students who ask specific homework questions until they understand.  From both sides, I’m being told that I am inadequate.

I’m baffled when students say that I only teach a little and spend a lot of time discussing homework.  Maybe if I lectured for a little bit on math and then spent a lot of time discussing the homework topic of puppies (not on the test, but there’s homework on puppies), then I could understand why this is a problem.  Because I make the tests from the algebra homework, I don’t see how an algebra homework discussion is not teaching math.  The tests come from the homework.  The homework list is from the same people who write the final.  How is discussing the process of completing the tasks that are on all the tests not teaching?  I’m apparently ALWAYS inadequate.

When I come home late in the evening, my children happily run to greet me.  However, within seconds, one of them will start crying because I’m not already doing something for them (holding, feeding, watching, etc.).  I’m usually still holding my school bag.  I’m inadequately meeting their needs.

Last summer, I submitted a two page single spaced letter of resignation.  It was declined and somehow, I’m still teaching.  Now, I understand that I should take this as a compliment, but I was talked into continuing in the job where people tell me how awful I am all the time.  I just feel like I’m also bad at resigning.

I feel that I’m giving all that I have available to give in these different venues, but I’m never enough.  I am the kind of teacher that I would have wanted, but I’m met with criticism from every direction. My children are upset that I leave them for a few hours while I go to the place where no one thinks I ought to be.

I’m never doing enough, nurturing enough, saving enough, cleaning enough, communicating enough.  I’m not smart enough, articulate enough, helpful enough, or available enough.  I’m just so tired of being so inadequate.

I have had an enduring grudge against my fellow woman. More than six years ago, I was a recent college graduate and very pregnant. Many people, mostly mothers, would ask in a sweet, small-talky way, “What hospital are you using?” I responded, “We’re not going to a hospital. We’re going to have a home birth.” I knew what the next statement would be. Well, I knew the theme of the next statement.

Sometimes, it was a genuine concern for my safety (a result of blind faith in American obstetrics). That one is tolerable. Sometimes, it was a passive-aggressive “You’re so brave!” I can deal with this now having had three drug-free births. More than six years ago, I had no clout and this was an unfair statement.

The response that was truly hurtful was the jovial, yet authoritative, chuckle/cackle followed by, “Oh, Honey! You have NO IDEA what you’re getting into!” “You’re going to REGRET that decision!” “Oh, you WILL change your mind in a few weeks!!” You’ll be SCREAMING for drugs!” “You’re NEVER going to make it!” These statements were almost always punctuated with the same jovial, authoritative cackle.

Really? I’m making a decision in favor of the health and safety of my child and you’re telling me how horrible it’s going to be and how I’m going to fail? I know that birth is a rite of passage among women and at that point, I had not crossed that threshold, but, for heaven’s sake, what’s wrong with all of you?

Having a double “blessing” of third trimester hormones, I cried as I told my husband how several, yes SEVERAL, women at church had informed me of my impending failure. “Why would they say such awful things? Why do they laugh while they are being so rude?!” My husband smiled and said lovingly, “Babe, some women are wusses. You can’t fault them for not being as awesome as you are.” Gotta love that man! My sister said, “Remember that most women in America don’t believe themselves to be strong, healthy women choosing to GIVE birth. They believe that pregnancy is a sickness and they need a doctor to DELIVER them from their medical condition.” I am glad that I had such an amazing support system.

While I was knowledgeable enough to be empowered, I was still offended. I received one such dole of discouragement while I was in my graduation garb. I told my husband on the way home, “Why would she say that to a pregnant woman? Is she also going to tell me, ‘Well, I see you’ve just graduated from college. I bet you’re going to fail miserably in your career. Ha, ha, ha!’ How is this any different?”

I recently talked to a young mom about to have her first baby. I knew that she was planning a drug free birth. I told her that if any of the naysayers predicted failure for her, she could tell them where to stick their negativity. She could say so on my authority. She told me that she had, indeed, received the negativity, but she would refute on her own authority. She may not have had the authority of someone who had yet given birth, but she had the authority of being able to make CHOICES about birth instead of succumbing to social norms. She told these naysayers, “How do you know what I can and can’t do? You have never been me and I’m the only one who can attest to my pain tolerance.” Soon thereafter, she gently gave birth to her son.

For the sake of clarity, I’m not saying that I hold a grudge against women who choose to use a hospital for birth. I HELD a grudge against the social acceptance of discouraging women who choose to give birth without unnecessary interventions.

As for the offensive cacklers, I resolve to stop holding a grudge.  I am done holding on to the anger.  I forgive you. I am not saying that I will not say anything when I hear this every-real-woman-screams-give-me-drugs-now nonsense. I cannot listen to it and sit idly by because that is just as bad as actively contributing.  It’s not helpful or healthy to say this to mammalian mothers. It’s a disgrace that we allow ourselves to behave this way. I am truly empathetic for whatever experiences made you describe such a hopeless scenario, but I will refute. I will smile and add a southern “Bless your heart!”

I’ve seen several status updates urging people not to use the term “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”  While I will advocate that God should be included in all activities, using an “X” in place of “Christ” is not excluding Him.  For the same reason that it is satisfactory for me to sign the students’ lab assignments with “CBGW,” I don’t have a problem with “Xmas.”

Seemingly, people believe that using an X is crossing off—even scribbling out—the title of the One who we are celebrating.  Remember that the New Testament was written in Greek.  “Christ” in Greek is “Christos” and in the Greek alphabet, it’s Χριστός. That’s spelled Chi-rho-iota-sigma-tau-omicron-sigma.  The English “Ch” is an “X” in Greek.  “X” is an initial, not a snub.

Granted, being a math teacher, I have become familiar with the Greek alphabet out of necessity.  In Logic and Proof, we studied truth tables to develop “tau”tologies.  We used capital sigmas in summation notation and lowercase sigmas in standard deviation.  Rho was used in Calc II when discussing series.  At some point in college, I used each of these Greek letters.  In fact, I’ve used X in place of Ch for other academic endeavors.

Let’s discuss intent.   The switch is linguistic, not anti-religious.  Let’s not waste energy on something like this when there are so many more worthy causes that warrant our righteous indignation.  The world has a 10/40 window where the people have not had the opportunity to hear about Χριστός.  What about those who want to remove Χριστός from public prayer?

Why should we get all riled up about a language tidbit (that is innocuous) when there are bigger things to discuss? When I hear that “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” are being replaced with “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” in our textbooks, I roll my eyes and say, “You can’t really replace Him.  He’s always gonna be there.”  Now, if you tell me that I can’t pray in the name of Ιησους Χριστος, I’m totally going to pull a Daniel on you (Daniel 6:10)!

Let’s study and be knowledgeable.  Let’s use that knowledge and our energies in venues that warrant it.

After class recently, a student and I were talking as we walked to our cars.  I described something being law versus grace “like Old and New Testament.”  A few sentences later, she sheepishly asked, “Are you a Christian?”  I assuredly affirmed.  “Really?  That’s great!  I never would have guessed!  May I ask you some other things…if you don’t mind standing out here in the rain?”  We talked for a while.  I then asked her why she was so surprised that I am a Christian.  Had I given a bad witness?  Had I behaved shamefully? Frankly, I was embarrassed and humbled that my light had apparently not been shining.  She said, “It’s just that you’re so…math-y.”

It was my love of scholarship that makes me an unlikely candidate?  I told her that a mathematician is more likely to believe in God than a scientist.  Usually, studies show a more dramatic difference than this one, but it seems to be the trend.  She asked me, “Why do you think that is?”  I said, “I guess because scientists are constantly trying to bring the makings of the universe down to palatable bites.    In order to continue the drive to understand and discover, they have to make science finite enough for a human brain to understand it.  A mathematician, however, has to accept concepts like infinity.”  She said, “So, that’s where God comes in.”  I said, “Yes, for the same reason I gave for putting a parenthesis on infinity in interval notation, I must accept that mathematics is bigger than I have the capability to understand.  A mathematician knows that there’s really no such thing as random.  Being a mathematician led me to the natural conclusion that there is a deity bigger than I can truly understand who is complex enough and powerful enough to construct an intricate and functional world.  When one accepts this, one has no other logical choice but to serve that Creator.”

Now, the most interesting thing to me is that many students complain that math is too difficult to understand.  Even at the algebraic level, they protest that they OUGHT not be required to begin to unravel its complexities.  So, I am truly astounded sometimes when I hear some of the same students declare anti-religious rhetoric.  If math, the gear that puts a universe of science in motion, is indeed as complex and multifaceted as they describe, they are making an excellent case for intelligent design!

I have a lot of positive things to say…really.  However, I’ve been using this blog (a Mother’s Day gift from my husband) to spew the negativity out and keep all the happy goodness for my loved ones.  Quite frankly, I assumed that all the negativity was bad for the blogosphere (similar to the feeling I get when I put newspaper in a trash can at a gas station instead of taking it home to the recycle bin because I am using the precious few seconds I have to regain control over the car clutter) and I figured that I ought to wait until I had more pleasant fodder.

Now, my husband just told me that I need to blog again.  Apparently, my posts are so becoming exponentially sparse.  He stopped just shy of plotting/sketching the polynomial.  I think that he was being encouraging.  I guess it worked because, well, here we are.

So, the negative blog post topic du jour is… the Learn to Be dot org commercials.  The virtual tutor receives an alert that a child is in need.  The child asks how to find the area of a triangle.  The tutor recites the formula.  They both smile.  Success is achieved.

This is not a successful academic undertaking.  First of all, the child used a costly resource.  Google is free.  Just Google “area of a triangle” and use resources more efficiently.  So, what did the child “learn to be?”  Lazy.  It’s really too hard to look it up yourself kid, huh?  Second, it solidifies the myth that math is about memorization.  On behalf of math teachers everywhere, AAAAGH!  Stop the memorization; it’s not a valuable skill.  Memorization/regurgitation is the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  A good math education will rely on memorization sparingly, understanding to a larger degree, and application in practice primarily.

Memorization as a principal study technique (and not anchoring a memory to a concept or application) leads to forgetfulness.  Forgetfulness generates frustration.   Then, people feel completely justified in deeming math as unattainable and silly.  I’m not speaking ill of the program as it is an admirable endeavor, just the message of the commercial.

On a completely unrelated but positive note, my mother in law just taught me how to crochet classic granny squares.  Cute little things.  This has nothing to do with anything else, but the negativity needs a little balance.

Annoyance #1: “Could you do any problem between 19 and 75?   Any one is fine.”

Translation:  “I didn’t do my homework.  If I even cracked the textbook at all, I wussed out and didn’t even try.  It looks like something that is not important to me or not as fun as other things I could be doing.  So, I used my time for something that would better hold my attention.  I guess attending the class and watching the professor do problems is enough to pass.”

Reaction:  The only people who are allowed not to do homework in a college course are the ones who have nearly perfect scores.  You may congratulate yourself on putting forth a reasonable effort , but until you’ve spent 6 hr/wk (class time x 2) or you have at least a 97 in the class, you’re not doing enough.

Script:  “I need help with number 33.  After I (choose at least one) typed in the keywords in Google/searched YouTube for an additional lecture/followed an example in the textbook/followed an example I found online, I still don’t understand (then name something specific.).”

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Annoyance #2:  “Why are there no answers on the practice test?”

Translation:  “I don’t want to come to class the day before the test.  Furthermore, I have no appreciation for the professor giving me a practice test.”

Reaction:  You’re friggin’ welcome.

Script:  Our study group disagreed on how to complete (name a specific problem).  Here were the two thought processes.   Would you clear up the discrepancy and then explain why?”

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Annoyance #3:  Cell phone vibrates.  Student giggles.

Translation: “I’d rather be somewhere else.”

Reaction:  Stop annoying me.  You’re making it so that I’d rather be somewhere else too.  Do things that contribute to our common goal of you learning mathematics.  If you refuse to contribute to your own learning, you’ve wasted my evening as well as your own.

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Annoyance #4:  “Can you slow down so that I can see all the steps?”  2 minutes later… “Can’t you just do it a faster way?”

Translation: “I’m not really looking for help.  I’m just really super at complaining.”

Reaction:  Nothing would please me more than completing this task 4 times faster…. but you’d probably just complain about it.

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Annoyance #5:  “I’m not that good at math.  I just ‘freak out’ during the test.”

Reaction:  See reaction #1.  About 99% of the students who say this have not completed the task list in reaction #1.  The 1% is merely lacking confidence but has an A.  To the other 99%, try using your whining time for homework.  Did you do all the homework?  If it’s so hard that you just sit there staring at your textbook, do the homework in the learning center or with your study group.

If you have not completed every scrap of homework, worksheets, practice tests, I ask you, how do you KNOW that you are not good at it?  You haven’t developed your skill set.  Math is only a talent for very few.  The rest of us rely on skill.  Don’t tell me that you’re not good at it when you haven’t done your homework.

Script:  I’m spending a lot of time with people who can help me.  I spent 5 hours doing homework.  I’m working hard at developing my skill set.

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General reaction:  I know you have other things to do with your time.  Me too.  I’m doing this job to be entertained.  Ya know, make the world a better place and get to say all the academic words.   Don’t spoil it be being a dork.  If you annoy me, I will fall into the downward spiral of stewing that I’m wasting my time.  I won’t pay attention and I’ll make stupid arithmetic mistakes.  That’s not good for any of us.  So, for Pete’s sake, ENTERTAIN me! I have other things vying for my attention too.  Don’t add to the list by annoying me.  I have to grade your measly scraps that you half-heartedly throw my way.  I’m looking for you to make my evening and your evening productive by showing me signs of COGNITION! I have been exceptionally skilled in this department for a very long time.  If you’re not willing to entertain me by exhibiting the cognition and the skill set that you’re working so hard to develop, don’t expect me grant you enough of my attention to be peppy, helpful, or even accurate!

My dear fellow nerds…
I’m  getting tired of people devaluing the learning of mathematics.  I may be a math professor by trade, but I’m a mom as a primary occupation.  I STILL value my educational background.  My education has altered the way that I think.  I may not have used the Wronskian method in years in a practical application, but I am thrilled that I have a degree that requied me to exercise that skill set.
Why is it weird that when I was swimming with my son and he asked me how much do you have to push down on a 20″ beach ball to keep it submerged, I told him that the same amout of force to lift (4/3)pi (10 inches)^3 of water in the air?  Why is it weird that I refer to the graph of f(x) = (2/3)^x when I discuss in a lactation class why one ought to nurse a baby instead of pumping to bottle feed?  Why is it weird that when I discuss how I can save more money by buying smaller volumes and using a stack of coupons instead of buying in bulk, I describe the intersection of two linear functions?  Why is it weird that when I sewed a purse with a geometrical print, I used the theorem that the diagonals of rhombi are perendicular?  Why are these weird?  I’m a mom.  I also happen to have an education.   This is how it is relevant to my occupation.
Pick an occupation.  Why do people wear an underdeveloped mathematical skill set as a badge of honor?  I have heard so many times, “Oh I’m not good at math.  That’s why I’m a ________________.”  This also identifies math as a talent instead of a skill set.  Why is math the mysterious academic subject with this distinction?  That’s another issue entirely.
Honestly, I have NEVER needed to diagram a sentence outside of an academic setting, but I often use parallel sentence structure.  I have only needed to spell C-Z-E-C-H-O-S-L-O-V-A-K-I-A once (I guess this makes twice) in my adult life, but I still value my sixth grade spelling class.  I have not balanced a chemical equation (fun!) since I was fifteen, but I can discuss why I don’t want to feed my children high fructose corn syrup.  I have not calculated mass and velocity, but I can describe to my children how to aim the bowling ball to recover a spare from a split (and describe why they are not allowed to cross the line in terms of the coefficient of friction).  I have not recited the Bill of Rights since the eighth grade, but reference them often when discussing current events.  I am a different person because of my education.
My point is that the who-really-uses-this-stuff-we-learn-in-school? arguement is lame.  Of course, you’re not going to have to disect a frog at work today.  This doesn’t mean that academic endeavors are useless.    It’s not the individual activities that make a person educated; it is the essence of education that alters a person.  To the people who say that they don’t use the education that took so many years to aquire, it’s a shame that you have wasted your time.  For someone to get an education to build a resume, then disregaurd the fine tuning of the mind and drive for accpmlishment that accomanies that education, the resume is a ruse.

My dear fellow academians…

I’m getting tired of people devaluing the learning of mathematics.  I may be a math professor by trade, but I’m a mom as a primary occupation.  I STILL value my academic background.  My education has altered the way that I think.  I may not have used the Wronskian method in years in a practical application, but I am thrilled that I have a degree that required me to exercise that skill set.

Why is it weird that when I was swimming with my son and he asked me how much one must push down on a 20″ beach ball to keep it submerged, I told him the same amount of force to lift (4/3)pi (10 inches)^3 of water in the air?  Why is it weird that I refer to the graph of f(x) = (2/3)^x when I discuss in a lactation class why one ought to nurse a baby instead of pumping to bottle feed?  Why is it weird that when I discuss how I can save more money by buying smaller volumes and using a stack of coupons instead of buying in bulk, I describe the intersection of two linear functions?  Why is it weird that when I sewed a purse with a geometrical print, I used the theorem that the diagonals of rhombi are perpendicular?  Why are these weird?  I’m a mom.  I also happen to have an education.   This is how it is relevant to my occupation.

Pick an occupation.  Why do people wear an underdeveloped mathematical skill set as a badge of honor?  I have heard so many times, “Oh I’m not good at math.  That’s why I’m a ________________.”  This also identifies math as a talent instead of a skill set.  Why is math the mysterious academic subject with this distinction?  That’s another issue entirely.

Honestly, I have NEVER needed to diagram a sentence outside of an academic setting, but I often use parallel sentence structure.  I have only needed to spell C-Z-E-C-H-O-S-L-O-V-A-K-I-A once (I guess this makes twice) in my adult life, but I still value my sixth grade spelling class.  I have not balanced a chemical equation (fun!) since I was fifteen, but I can discuss why I don’t want to feed my children high fructose corn syrup.  I have not calculated mass and velocity, but I can describe to my children how to aim the bowling ball to recover a spare from a split (and describe why they are not allowed to cross the line in terms of the coefficient of friction).  I have not recited the Bill of Rights since the eighth grade, but reference them often when discussing current events.  I am a different person because of my education.

My point is that the who-really-uses-this-stuff-we-learn-in-school? argument is lame.  Of course, you’re not going to have to dissect a frog at work today.  This doesn’t mean that academic endeavors are useless.    It’s not the individual activities that make a person educated; it is the essence of education that alters a person.  To the people who say that they don’t use the education that took so many years to acquire, it’s a shame that you have wasted your time.  An education assumes the fine tuning of the mind and drive for accomplishment. Otherwise, it’s a waste of ink on a résumé.

“Courtney, you have a master’s degree.  Wouldn’t it be better for your family if you got a full-time job?”  No, not really.  I am more valuable (monetarily and otherwise) to my family when my primary job is homemaker.

Arithmetic (and a tiny bit of algebra) to follow…

Daycare Rates:

Infant for a week: $155

Toddler for a week: $145

After school for a kindergartner:  $62

Formula for that infant would be about $40 a week.  Human milk is free, so formula for anyone else to be her care provider would create an additional cost.

$402/wk so far.  Then, using this daycare 48 weeks out of the year would cost $19,296 for the year.  That would come from net earnings.  Daycare would cost me $23,136.69 in gross earnings.

I probably wouldn’t work as a part time employee either (as an adjunct or as a lab instructor).  That’s approximately $11,500 that I wouldn’t make. (Frankly, I call being an adjunct math professor a time consuming hobby instead of a job.  My kindergartener can’t derive the quadratic formula yet.  So, I spend six hours a week with people to whom it is academically relevant.)

With my obsession with coupons, I can buy groceries for about $60/wk (by groceries, I’m including personal care like shampoo, diapers for 2 babies, etc.).  I’ve been getting approximately 75% off overall.  That other 75% is $180 that I’m saving each week.  $180 for 52 weeks is $9360/yr.  This is $11,223.02 from gross earnings.

So, the way I see it, I make the equivalent of almost $46,000/yr because I don’t have a full-time job.  However this way, I can pack my husband lunches that I either got for free or made from scratch.  My son’s kindergarten teachers have master’s degrees.

I’m not saying that I would never take a full-time job.  I’d have to become significantly less necessary at home and it would have to have an awesome base pay to be worth my time!

In class, the new topic had only one difference to material we studied two tests ago; it included fractions.  Oh, the weeping and the wailing!  This is a college credit course.  The college students were complaining about fractions!  In the state of Florida, adding, subtracting and multiplying fractions is a fourth grade skill!

Now, other cultures have found the secret to being good at math.  Truly.  Earlier in this decade, there were two interesting studies of cultures who have been stereotyped as producers of good mathematicians.  One of these studies determined that the society’s ability to produce such good mathematicians that it became a stereotype was NOT genetic.  However, it was cultural.   A second study set out to determine the secret.  The secret is…there is no secret.  The cultural difference is that people from the mathematically superior culture do not classify themselves as being good or bad at mathematics.  It is merely something to be done.  To paraphrase, it is not a talent, but a skill.

That makes perfectly good sense.  For example, I am blonde and female.  Therefore, I shouldn’t be good at math…yet it is my profession.  I had no idea that I was destined to be stereotypically bad at math.  I have a scholarly father and a diligent mother.  Doing less that one’s best in any area was certainly less than acceptable.  Heaven forbid I might have figured out that a blonde girl wasn’t supposed to be good at math.  I would have had to pick a different career!

So, back to my frustration with students who I feel have been handicapped by a culture.  Math is hard?  No, not really.  Even if math were hard, who cares?  Is riding a bike hard?  Ask any kid who is learning.  It requires the use of many skills simultaneously.  Children practice until they master the skill anyway.  Math is no different.  Do you know what else is hard?  Getting the bristles of a toothbrush to fit where my wisdom teeth touch my gums…but I do it anyway.  Why?  Because it is the task at hand.  A task’s difficulty is not a reason not to complete it!  It is equally ludicrous not to work at building a mathematical skill set because it is “hard.”

Math students in this society have tricked themselves into believing that math is “hard” or “useless” (oh, I shouldn’t get started on that soap box!) and therefore, it is socially acceptable not to develop the skills set.  Oh well.  The cultures who treat math like a task and not a mere talent currently hold the majority of our national debt, another is a leader in innovations and another does our tech support.  Maybe they can teach us how to study math when they replace us as a world power.

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