One of my biggest pet peeves is when I try to explain something mathematical to a peer and they interupt, explaining that they “don’t understand it because I’m not good at math like you are.”
Good at math? This implies some innate differences in our analytical skills. If I’m “good” at math it’s only because I’ve spent tons of time hunched over my calculus book struggling to understand the concepts.
For a handful of geniuses out there, math comes naturally. The other 98% of us who are “good at math” are simply patient enough to stare at a problem for hours, hitting it with all of our favorite math tricks until it’s beaten into submission. Days of hard work and gallons of coffee does a mathematician make.
A false dichotomy has been created between those who are “good at math” and those who aren’t. People hide behind the excuse that math is hard for them before they’ve even put in the appropriate hours of sweat and toil. Spending an hour looking at a problem without seeing the solution does not mean that you’re bad at math, it only means that the problem is going to require more than an hour of your time.
Unfortunately, I think the structure of our educational system exacerbates the problem. Plenty of people who are really good at solving math problems need more than a few hours to do it. Giving people a night or two to solve a homework set or a few hours to complete an exam is a poor way of testing a person’s ability to comprehend complex math concepts and fosters the belief that your’e not good at math unless you can solve math problems quickly.
Just about anyone can be good at math given enough hours of hard work. True, some people solve a problem more quickly than others, but it certainly isn’t the case that quick problem solvers are good at math while everyone else is not.
To anyone who would argue that they’re “not good at math”, I would argue that you haven’t put in enough time.
“A mathematician is a tool for turning coffee into theorems.” – Alfred Renyi