“I’ve never really been good at math.”
That is the single most common expression that I have ever heard over my years of instructing. I think that most of us can relate to not being “good at math” at some point in our lives. Even the most advanced mathematicians have their moments of being completely dumbfounded by a problem. In all actuality there are still problems that have not been completely solved in math, even by the best minds (try to divide by zero on a calculator!). So what does it mean to be good at math?
Does being “good” at math mean that you have a degree? Not necessarily. Take for instance a man by the name of Thomas Fuller. He was a slave on a southern plantation in the 1700’s, not once had he experienced a formal education. However, despite his background, he was noted to be one of the greatest mental calculators in the entire world capable of answering questions such as, “How many seconds are in a year and a half?”. Do we say that Thomas Fuller was good at math? It all depends on your definition of math.
Do you define math as the entire field of mathematics from abstract algebra to vector calculus and beyond? If that is your definition, then no, Thomas Fuller was not good at math, and neither are the many renowned geniuses who can split an atom but can’t determine the financial forecast. Math is such a tremendously broad field of study, it includes things like: forming proofs, geometry, trigonometry, probability, abstract algebra, linear algebra, calculus, vector calculus, and the list can go on and on. Each of these fields has its own rich sub-fields of study.
In my experience, many instructors and textbooks and authorities on the subject have made math a truly mystifying art that is only for the select few – as though it was the practice of a secret society. It is my personal belief that there is a math that can be grasped and delved into by anyone. Too many students have a fear to push past their prior experience in math, but those that do find that it is a truly rich and rewarding area of interest. This is my own personal story. I was raised with disdain toward mathematics. Both my parents and teachers gave up on me, and with good reason! I had given up on myself! So much so that I abandoned math altogether.
I pursued a degree in psychology and was very near graduating, but in curiosity I decided to take a college calculus class. My professor opened my mind to a world of math that was unlike anything that I had ever experienced! I was hooked! I became determined to see how far I could take my new found knowledge!
Let me challenge you reader, do not remain content in saying that you “can’t” learn math. If you reader are well versed in math, let me challenge you to go beyond what you know, and become like the reader that doesn’t know. You can learn anything, and let me assure you, you will not be let down.