Thursday, June 06, 2013

Mathematics, beauty and the real world

I'm about to get my ranty-pants on...No, not about the shoes that certain members of this household leave lying, not about the fact that my Hubby leaves his dirty clothes on MY side of the bed even though I have asked multiple times for him not, even about the deplorable state of Australian politics!

No - I'm about to get all ranty about those people who loudly, proudly even, declare that they "hate maths" and "don't get it".

Memes like these have done the rounds of Facebook, and yes, I've even shared them:

All amusing stuff and even I had a giggle. But you know, I get a bit sad because apparently it is cool to hate maths. Admit you hate maths, and you get a bunch of people joining in and saying "hey, me too!". This disturbs me somewhat, because in general, you don't get the same sense of collective pride from admitting you hate reading (or can't read) or don't value literacy.

I had this response from an English teacher on Facebook yesterday when I dared to be different and declare my love for maths:

"Maths has never been beautiful for me. Beauty doesn't exist in an x = mc 2"

I can't tell you how sad this statement, made so vehemently, made me feel (apart from the fact she got the world's most famous equation wrong). It wasn't just that she didn't get it. It was that she was proud to say it out loud. And that she was so shut off as to what "beauty" could be.

She has obviously never played with patterns of numbers:

or explored the golden ratio or Fibonacci:

or done origami:

or played with proportions:

or seen a fractal:

or watched a Vi Hart video:

Maths is not easy for everyone. I totally get that. I don't totally get the above video, but I love it! I don't pretend to be a mathematical "genius" - my daughter is infinitely faster and more perceptive about maths than I am! But I can appreciate it. I have my eyes open to glimpse the beauty and my mind open to new possibilities.

I'd like to think that just because my strengths are in science and maths that I don't exclude language arts or humanities or creative arts in my world outlook and even in the other interests I pursue. Hell, I can even appreciate physical achievements (marathon runners, gymnasts, weight lifters), even if I have issues with organised team sports and the over-emphasise our society places on them.

I think we actually teach Maths Aversion and Maths Phobia much more effectively than we teach mathematics! Maths is soooo much more than arithmetic, but you wouldn't know it in our average classroom (and by default, largely, in the average homeschool home). We don't teach creativity and inventiveness in maths - the answers are either right or wrong and there seems to be a never-ending stream of drill and kill arithmetic stretching onwards forever (and the prospect of getting more wrong as you build on stuff you never learnt properly in the first place).

I find this really sad, this concept that maths doesn't contribute to human society in the same way as poetry or music or art does. Oh, but it does! So much of our world is a result of mathematical thinking - creativity and inventiveness and "playing" with numbers. What a pity so many people don't view it that way.

So I leave you with this thought, from the inspiring words of L.M. Montgomery and Anne (of Green Gables fame):

So are you a maths phobe? Do you openly or even sub-consciously pass on your fear and dislike of maths to your children? Or is it something you don't think about much? Or is it something you love and feel should be defended?


  1. Math, paired with science, unlocks the secrets of the universe. When I took organic chemistry in college, I felt like I had information other people didn't. It was...delicious.

    1. I know, right? How she is blind to that I just don't understand.

  2. "I think we actually teach Maths Aversion and Maths Phobia much more effectively than we teach mathematics!"

    Whilst I didn't enter my hs 'career' with a love of maths personally, (mostly due to poor teaching)I have always striven hard to NEVER be negative about maths to my children. In fact I have a husband and most of our children who do love maths and certainly love 'playing with' maths. I do indeed believe we easily impart an aversion/phobia and that has always been me mantra to never instill that in my children. It is to this end I've surrounded them with math books, reading them at bedtime when little, playing with math, chatting about math and when I don't know I tell them, I don't but "we can find out!"

    1. Yay Erin - go you for realising your own issues and being aware so you don't let them get in the way (I wish I could say the same about my own issues). Tell me - after watching your hubby and kids play with maths, and reading those maths books, have you gained a love of maths (even just a tiny bit?).

  3. Um, I LOVE math. And Vi Hart, her too! I could pretty much do calculus for fun, but it's true that that's makes me sound terribly uncool. Unlike if I said that I love to read, which I also love, but people GET that much more often.

    1. I am a BIG Vi Hart fan - she is what I consider to be brilliant. I'm with you on the calculus - I just want to plunder Khan Academy and see what I can remember.

      I also love to read - way cooler than loving calculus!

  4. Does Maths Exist?

    1. That was cool, dude!! Hurt my brain, but cool!

  5. Spot on!

    I am one of those "I hate math" people or let me rephrase that, "I hate *school* math". It took unschooling for me to understand what "math" really is and that it is everywhere in everything we do, and yes we do use it everyday.

    One child who has been unschooled from the start loves math! She loves adding scores in her head and playing games.

    The other child was "schooled" at home, even though it was Waldorf math, I pushed and drilled and made her do workbook pages with tears in her eyes. She was one of those "I hate math" people too until she started getting in with art. She too has come to love math but not "school" math. She loves geometric shapes and likes to spot them out in art works.

    I don't know about there but here in our state they are doing away art classes due to funding to focus more on math and science, what a shame because it was art and her love of computer graphics that brought my daughter's attention and interest back to mathematics.

    1. Yes - is it no wonder we hate maths? So far, here in OZ, they haven't taken away the arts - and I would like to think there would an uproar if they tried!

  6. It's a pity I hated maths in high school, because statistics would have been so much easier in uni (and I would have *actually* graduated with an Honours in Psychology). But I guess that was the way the cookie crumbled for me. Thankfully, I have *rekindled* my interest in art, and the use of a ruler (to make pretty patterns), and some knowledge of maths (especially geometry) comes in handy :)

    Btw, you forgot to include *Spirograph* as an example of 'beauty in maths' :)


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