Math is Hard

A typical conversation with a failing math student, with a failing math student’s parents, or with a counselor or administrator about a failing math student either directly sites this, or is pulled in a direction like driftwood in a tide by the fact that math is hard.

A common conference would go something like:

Parents: Why is my child failing math?

Me: Well, let’s ask your child. Why are you failing math?

Child: Because math is hard.

Parents and other interested parties accept this as sufficient reason and place the onus back on me as though I can alleviate the very nature of the subject.

I am completely fed up with the observation that math is hard. And while refraining from profanity in response to this excuse should award me man of the year, I get it. Math is hard. No kidding!

It doesn’t matter what innate abilities someone has in math, eventually it will become difficult, confusing and … well, hard! It is something everybody that learns math must face. They must learn how to learn something that is hard, demanding and elusive. That whole experience of, “Oh, I got it,” and then ten seconds later, “Wait a minute, I don’t get it anymore,” is something we all suffer.

When I was taking math courses in college I was certainly challenged. At one point a formal proofs/topology class was really destroying me. It was designed to be a bit of a gate-keeper of a course. If you failed to posses the ethic and fortitude required to be successful in mathematics, this class would ferret out such things.

While taking this class my birthday rolled around. I am the oldest grandchild on my father’s side and share my birthdate with my grandmother. I am the oldest grandson. So birthday parties are kind of a special thing for the two of us!

At the party I showed up with a small dry-erase board, a marker, rag for erasing and my book. I didn’t have an assignment, no test coming up soon, but was well aware that I “didn’t get it.” While friends and family hang out enjoying themselves I sat in a room with the door closed and practiced.

To be clear, I wasn’t struggling for mastery, I wasn’t fighting to get an A. I was struggling just to get by, just to get a C in the class.

So yeah, math is hard. Education changes you, or it should. I’d argue if it was easy and didn’t change you, what is the purpose? Sometimes you have to fight to get things done.

Think math is hard, try beating addiction. How about facing cancer? Raise children.

The difference between those that get math and those that don’t is a simple one…some are fighters while others site difficulty as sufficient reason to surrender and quit. While that may sound harsh, there’s a little more to it than just that.

Fighters have faith and patience. They have faith that through perseverance they will overcome. They have the patience to persevere through hard times, knowing that it will pass and the result will be worth the endeavor.

By facing the struggles presented in math that perspective can be gained. If math is hard for you it offers you an opportunity to learn that if you persevere, keep faith and have patience with yourself you will overcome.