Monday, December 11, 2006

Is math the death force?

I was teaching trig today. Not easy, especially when you're starting from near the beginning with precious little time. I wanted to delve deep into it, too explain how things are really related and not simply support formula memorization. But that's what the GED demands, and she gets what she wants.

I only took the required one math class for my journalism degree -- a B in stats, my lowest grade in college, because I just dismissed it. I didn't even really bother with the graphing calculator until the final. And I still got a B. Life isn't fair.

The old maxim is that journalists, like English teachers and whomever else, can't do math. Granted, many can't. But there are many with aptitude, who like so many others seeking belonging, take on stereotypes with a sense of pride. See: excessive drinking and chain smoking. I think I remember a part of me, if not outright rejecting mathematical skill, at least hiding it behind a curtain. But come on. I got a 770 on the quantitative GRE. I can do it.

Sometime in college I left my shy boyhood behind and realized I could create a public Andrew Moseman, brimming with charisma and free from a lot of old social rules. And now I'm coming around to the intellectual part of that. The last month or so I've been working my way through "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence," which has helped me recognize some patterns in my usually divergent and disorganized mind. I just feel this great power, like I can take anything apart. Sometimes I'm scared that I don't belong and will get laughed out of the stodgy academy, if I go, for not operating as a proper research robot. But sometimes I get excited about tearing up competitors with self-imposed cognitive limitations.

The fear of math is the same as the fear indie kids have of the mainstream music industry. Romantic thinkers, as Pirsig calls them in "Zen," run from the death force of soulless technology as a matter of identity.

But they still drive cars.

Math is just a necessary misery, from this point of view. I've subscribed to it, in the past. But like most ills, it came from a lack of vision. But with its abstractions and rigidity, it seems like the enemy of all artistic, although it allows all the arts to be.

Is this so? Do you have a mental block against the maths?


Elissa said...

I started to, when someone stole my trig teacher's edition. But I think you've hit on something our generalist comprehensive ed. might have over the academy's endless specialization: people can be good at more than one thing, and in fact most people are.

mp said...

i've definitely fallen victim to the "journalists can't do math" stereotype. i've played into it. but damnit, i'm good at math. let's stand up and take back our math loving identity. probably by making tshirts.