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Saturday, October 15, 2011

You Don't Even Know What Math Is Yet

Alex McFerron:
I tutor mathematics to kids and I can't tell you how many times I hear the words "I'm not good at math". This is from very intelligent kids who aren't out of high school. Honestly, I want to say, you don't even know what math is yet. You don't know the first thing about it or your ability to do it or not do it. I want to tell them that no one is good at math who doesn't work at it. 
I think that what separates math people from non-math people in our culture is that math people continue doing math and don't spend anytime thinking they aren't math people. They just keep going on the journey. The older I get, the more it is obvious that a lot of really capable people quit the journey. I admit, this journey isn't for everyone. Its hard work. It takes focus. You have to want to do it. The financial rewards aren't really there in proportion to the work. But what really hurts me is that there are people who want to do it and quit. They change majors, go home, seek other work all because they have it in their heads that they lack talent and aren't naturals. The profession loses when this happens.
Alex has a unique perspective on Mathematics and I always learn from her insights. Professionally, she's a software engineer, but she is also a math enthusiast and evidently tutors kids as well. I am left wondering as a result of this post, what is our role in promoting the "not a math person" label? And what can we do to entice kids to not quit the journey? I have to think that choosing puzzling but accessible tasks is paramount, but hey I do that, and many of them still check out anyway. What else?