I found myself attempting to help someone with simultaneous equations on a Friday afternoon, scribbling equations on pieces of paper in response to some awful questions with what was reportedly an awful math teacher. But the questions weren’t awful. I’m not sure that the teacher was either.
And this is not about that.
Problems With Math
Because of the exercise, I was reminded of my troubles with math. In grade 4, I was actually placed in the slow class for math because of something I no longer remember. One week in the slow class, and I returned to the regular class and began outperforming everyone. Let’s consider that. I didn’t get something in a regular class, but taught another way, I completely understood it and internalized it.
Later on in life, I would find myself doing horribly in math – calculus, trigonometry, what have you – and I turned 4 years of poor grades into very good Ordinary Level (O Level) math – but this time it was different. I had the same teacher tutoring me. What I needed to do was focus and practice. Math, for very few people, is something that they can immediately grasp concepts of, and in my mind you really don’t do math – or anything, for that matter – until you are challenged to work. It takes a combination of knowledge, imagination and effort to truly get math – it was a rewarding effort for me, something that shaped a large part of my life.
Reflecting on that has made me consider how we approach so many things in life the wrong way. Maybe it’s because we’re in a one-way-fits-all class, maybe it takes us longer than others to grasp an underlying concept, or maybe we’re just too lazy to work at it.
In the great calculus of life where we must be able to differentiate so many things, integrate so many others, triangulate our way through dynamic systems, chart our course and measure ourselves in effective ways before we can think of doing so with others… we seem to fail not because the answers aren’t given to us, but because we don’t seem to understand we need to work for our own answers. The processes in math, in physics, in chemistry… these are not for rote memorization. They require understanding the processes involved, and that takes practice.
It takes effort. It takes working it out on our own. The guidance comes in as just this – “Welcome to this cave. Have fun.”
Like so much else, we have to work to get the results we want, we have to flip things around until we do understand them – bad teachers be damned, it’s not about them. It’s about what we’re willing to do, how hard we’re willing to work, and how resilient we are when faced with a problem.
No more. No less.