Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hmm.... Perhaps the Times will help me learn math.

There is a series of opinion articles that I'm going to be following on the New York Times. In it, the author (a respected mathematics professor over at Cornell University) is giving an explanation of the concepts of mathematics for the lay man. I've got to say, I feel a tremendous sense of hope upon reading the first article of the series. I've always felt overwhelmed and troubled by the concept of numbers.

When I was a kid, I made the mistake of asking questions about number theory of my teachers in elementary school. Their rough dismissals combined with my being told to just accept things because it's the way they are worked to make numbers a troubling concept. Add to this things like multiplication confusing me and no one managing to help me understand it (because I'm being told just to memorize it), it makes it really difficult to become comfortable or even indifferent towards mathematics.

Throw in that at the time this was going on, my family was suffering the effects of poverty and I could see what not having enough money and making mistakes with money lead to.... Well, it takes numbers from an uncomfortable place to a terrifying place when I'm being told to think of my math problems as dealing with money. Working past the emotional associations, there is still the bad job that was done by others to educate me when I was a child.

I look back and I can see only one teacher who helped me understand mathematics. Mrs. Lewis was (possibly still is, if she hasn't retired) a special education teacher who worked with me for a long while to get me to understand fractions. It is directly due to her efforts that I can do at least a passable job of division. It is also directly due to her efforts that I was able to learn how to do algerbra because she used some of the basic ideas of it to help me understand division. If this series of articles can help me to learn how to do basic multiplication, perhaps I'll be able to learn the aspects of higher mathematics that have been eluding me over the last several years and I will finally be able to write up my theory.

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