People do math everyday. They don’t hate math – really.
They say they hate math because they have a yukky memory of something that happened in a math class a long, long time ago.
I call it The Event.
And everybody I know has one.
It’s the moment in your life where you’re forced to ask the question:
Am I bad at math?
What The Event Looks Like
Everyone’s Event is different. Sometimes it’s when a math teacher laughed at them in class. Sometimes it’s when a parent told them everyone in their family was bad at math.
Sometimes it’s when they asked a question and got an answer that didn’t make sense.
Which was what my Event looked like.
Squares and Rectangles
I was in the fifth grade. We were studying geometry.
I read the definition for a rectangle in the book:
A rectangle is a four-sided shape where every angle is a right angle.
I read the definition for a square in the book:
A square has four equal sides and every angle is a right angle.
I thought about it. A lot.
I went up to Mrs. Skinner’s desk and said, “So I think I understand, but I want to make sure. Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Right?”
She said, “No. A square is a square. It’s not a rectangle. Squares are squares and rectangles are rectangles.”
I was puzzled.
I went back to my desk and read the definitions some more.
And I thought about it. A lot.
After I was sure. I went back to Mrs. Skinner’s desk.
“No, I really think it’s true. Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.”
She said, “Look, a square is not a rectangle. It’s a square. A square can’t be a rectangle.”
Even after I asked her to look at the definitions in the book, she stood firm.
So I went back to my desk.
And I asked the question:
Am I bad at math?
It made perfect sense. I read the book. I thought I understood it. But the teacher (a super authority who knows everything) told me I was wrong.
Therefore, I must not have the ability to read a math book and understand things.
The best conclusion was, “Yes, I am bad at math.”
I’m NOT bad at math!
I refused to believe that I was wrong. The definitions were there in print. And I felt my reasoning was right. So I came to a different conclusion:
Even though Mrs. Skinner was a nice lady, she didn’t know what she was talking about.
I am NOT bad at math. In fact, I’m better than my teacher.
Fast forward 35 years – and here I am. Writing a math blog, teaching and tutoring math, and generally being a thorn in the side of anyone who’s math-averse.
But most kids don’t come to this conclusion.
Most kids answer “Am I bad at math?” with yes.
Not every kid is ornery like I was.
Luckily there are some.
Many turn out to be mathematicians, engineers, math teachers, etc. And some are just in the minority, quietly sipping a cocktail at a party while others proclaim their distaste of math.
If you’re bad at math, then why wouldn’t you hate it?
We like what we’re good at. And we certainly don’t like what we believe we’re bad at.
So why wouldn’t people say they hate it?
After all, I hate magic because I don’t know how to do it.
What was your Event?
What was your Event? What conclusion did you come to? And how do you handle others that decided on the “yes”?
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