Thursday, September 17, 2009

Criminally Boring, A Rant About Math Education.

For years I assumed that, over time, I would get less and less angry with my high school math teachers. I was wrong. Instead, as it turns out, the massive failure of high school mathematics education serves as a constant pit of fury that I can call on anytime I need (especially when people say they hate/are bad at math, I'm convinced it stems from terrible education into what the subject is...).

Why do I harbor such rage? because it would be inconceivable to not be furious at the grand scale of the failure. When I ask people why they hate math, the most frequent response is that it is 'boring'. And, while I disagree to the utmost, I understand where they are coming from. The fact is mathematics is perhaps the most poorly understood subject by its teachers and the population at large. I was lucky to have a father who cultivated my interest in mathematics at a young age, but even so, as I left high-school I had become convinced that math is boring, a dull subject populated by endless formulae that are applied in an arcane seemingly random manner.

But mathematics is far far greater than I was led to believe from how terrible my teachers were. Mathematics, the study of relationships between objects truly is the queen of the sciences.  As I started college and realized that Electrical Engineering, my chosen major, would give me no chances to take any non engineering classes, distraught over this prospect, I decided I needed to change majors, but I had no clue what to change to, then my father gave me two books to read, The Man who Knew Infinity and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Reading these, my eyes were opened to the true beauty of mathematics, I saw what my high-school teachers so failed at imparting, what mathematics is. It is the study of how objects relate to one another, regardless of what the object is. It is indeed the language of the universe, the noblest science.

And this, this is what they were able to make boring. I was dumbfounded, how could people in good conscience make such a beautiful and interesting subject boring. I could not understand, perhaps it was from laziness, or misunderstanding, or tiredness, but still, to take such a subject and make it boring should be a crime. The mathematical training of American high schools is downright criminal. Not only does it not grant the students even a shred of mathematical literacy and maturity, it makes them distrust and hate the subject. A subject full of beauty and wonder, a subject where even the most simple rules will lead you into bizarre worlds full of things to explore, and they, these villains that teach the subject have turned it into a cesspit of boredom for most of their students. How is this not a crime? If anything should be a crime should not turning something interesting and beautiful into something ugly and boring be a crime?

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