To say that I hated math growing up would be like saying that the sun is hot. I despised math. I dreaded math class every single school day from the ages of 8 to 18. There are 180 school days in a year, and assuming each class lasts an hour, that’s 180 hours per year. Over a period of 10 years, I spent 1800 hours, not even counting homework, wishing I was doing anything else but math.
But, I just sat down and did math, if only to drive home a point. And, it was kind of fun. I crunched the numbers and figured out how much time I spent hating math, and realized I don’t actually hate it anymore. What changed?
It turns out that math isn’t boring; math classes are–or at least were in my case. I couldn’t tell you why, but math is the one subject that many schools across the U.S. have completely gutted of everything that makes it worth studying. Math class as we know it is a shell of what it could be, ruined by rote memorization and word problems involving absurd quantities of fruit. This widespread failure to teach mathematics with the same passion as English or reading translates into consistently lower scores in the Math sections of the SATs and ACTs than the other sections. Students aren’t failing math classes—math classes are failing them.
As the saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Some kids are just wired for math; they like solving problems the way other kids like reading or playing sports. Everybody else has to learn how to like it, and if that’s you, it might help to know that there’s a lot of beauty to be found in the world of mathematics. Try reading up on:
- The epistemology and ontology of math, which just means the philosophy of what math really
- Does 2 plus 2 equal 4 just because we say so? Does “infinity” actually mean anything? These questions date back to ancient Greece, and mathematicians might never agree on the answers.
- The rich history of math, from the concept of zero in the Mayan Empire, to negative numbers in Ancient China, to the use of pi (π) to create the Pyramids of Giza.
- The influence of math in art and literature. The Fibonacci sequence used for centuries in designing perfect proportions, the geometry in famous art pieces by Kandinsky and Pollock, even the satire of mathematical theory in the original Alice in Wonderland—there’s a lot of math in art because there’s an art to math.
- The use of math in the cutting edge of computer science. Artificial intelligence and robotics rely on seriously complex math, and they’re quickly changing the world as we know it.
- The abstract fringes of theoretical math, if you’re up for a challenge and like going down rabbit holes like me. Pure math isn’t constrained by reality, so it can get pretty bizarre. Try reading Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng and the Weird Math series by David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee.
Math might feel dry and boring to you, but that’s only because you’ve only been taught the dry and boring parts. The truth is, math can be just about anything you want it to be—an art form, a language, a thought experiment; whatever makes you want to learn more about it. Real learning takes passion, and sometimes you have to discover that passion for yourself.