Monday, December 1, 2008

A Number of Mathematical Thoughts

As we have discussed this theme (well, you all mostly discussed...I just panicked quietly in the background) and then revealed our results, I was struck at how frequently people have talked about being bad at math, or phobic about it, or not good with numbers, and the like. It has been a very pervasive topic during the period for this theme.
Maybe that's partly natural, because we're obviously all so visual and put such a priority on creativity in our lives. But this process, and everyone's comments along the way, have made me realize how math is so much more than numbers -- AND how self-defeating it is to go around telling ourselves and each other that we don't do math well.
In fact, as this challenge has illustrated, we all do it very well. We're constantly calculating yardage and size of pieces of fabric and amounts of dye. Our concepts of balance and design are heavily influenced by mathematical underpinnings, as the whole fractal thing and Deborah's tree reminds us. We use geometric shapes all of the time. We can understand how it influences our politics and they way we view social issues.
Maybe I'm so mindful about this because of having a daughter who is a whiz at math but who goes around saying that she doesn't like it. I think she has started saying that because it's what the girls in her class say, to be honest. When I press her about it, she admits that she DOES enjoy it and finds it fun, and she's proud of doing it well. But it's not "cool" to say so ... better to act blase and even somewhat inept.
We all have young women in our lives -- daughters and grandaughters and friends and nieces -- and I'd like to think that we can start to convey more positive ideas about math. Maybe even simple things like "I wasn't great at algebra but I loved geometry and working with those shapes" or even talking about how the simplest and coolest things have some connection to math.
I think a lot about a friend of mine who has it in her head that she cannot "make things." She walks through craft shows and galleries and says things like "I could never do that." Not surprisingly, her 13 year old daughter has picked up this same attitude, and doesn't even try to do artsy things. When they visit, I always make sure that we do some group art project, and they're just fine! But they've convinced themselves that they can't do it, and I see so clearly how the mom's comments influence the daughter. Seeing that makes me *try* to think about how I talk about math and science with Caroline. I want her to feel strong and capable.
Without being preachy, I hope that we all can remember that the view we portray to the girls in our lives who look up to us will, in fact, influence them. So enough with the "I can't do math" talk! Now you can say, "there are so many interesting aspects of math!" Just check out our quilts!!


kirsty said...

Good point, Diane. I had similar thoughts during this challenge, myself. I could hear myself grumbling about maths when I was actually quite good at maths at school, I can usually add my shopping purchases and calculate discounts faster than the checkout staff can scan the stuff and I rock at physics! Time to stand up and be counted.

My name is Kirsten. I can do maths and I'm proud.

Kristin L said...

My name is Kristin and I faked my way through Algebra so that I could do Geometry. OK, I didn't predict that Geometry was actually going to make sense, but once I found out that it did, I was inspired to fake my way through Algebra II just to see what clarity lay on the other side.

You are so right about the attitudes of the parents and peers and are so right in pointing it out here. I know math is not my strong suit, but my daughter likes it now and I want her to feel as confident in math as her brother is. I'm on guard now and need to be mindful about the messages I give.

I've seen this applied to other aspects of life too. I noticed when we lived in Germany that the kids of ex pat parents who got out and learned the language and culture also learned the language and made lots of German-speaking friends. The kids of parents who stuck to their American or English-speaking German friends also didn't mingle much in German-only situations.

Thanks for calling our attention to this and pointing out that, yes, we rock math when we can get creative with it!

Gerrie said...

You are so wise. I must say that I tried very hard as a parent to not pass on my fears - math, swimming, riding roller coasters. I think I was quite successful. When Mia was staying with us last month, I enjoyed watching her do her math homework.

Terry said...

I was blessed with an engineer father who explained math to me so much better than my teachers that I came to at least appreciate some of the magic there. But despite this, I followed along with my math hating friends and put it behind me as quickly as possible when I was in school. It is a hard battle to get girls to love math. Peer pressure prevails even when parents do the right thing. But maybe with so many more women pursuing careers in engineering and computer and technology fields, this will change. Good food for thought, Diane.

RainbowCatcher said...

Good thoughts on self-fulfilling prophecy! And before the new theme is announced, let me say to all of you how much I look forward to the reveals - I can hardly wait the two months to see what wonderful ideas all of you have come up with! Very inspiring, entertaining and thought-provoking...

Karen said...

I too had an engineer father whol had to read the chapter in the "new" math book before he could help me with the problems. I'm actually pretty fast at the more basic math skills, I think I have just forgotten the other due to lack of use.

Deborah Boschert said...

You are so right, Diane! Thank you so much for this very thoughtful post.

Nikki said...

Thank you Diane for that post. I have more experience with the "I can't do Art" than I can't do craft. I struggled with my art classes and actually dropped out of art school because I couldn't take the pressure to perform. Math was so much easier because there was a right answer and I didn't have to open myself up to value judgements. Only in the last few years have I been able to let go of my perfectionism and been able to play.