Feb 252014

I’m about to completely ruin winter break for my boys. We have to do some math work before I leave town for a soccer tournament and I’m about to make that announcement. I’m going to be wildly unpopular!

Oh math, so often I hear parallels being drawn between you and life. Math and God. Math and beauty. Math and dessert. Sometimes these parallels are frustrating for those (like me!) who struggle with you. What? Do you mean I’ll never understand God or the order of the universe if I don’t understand De Moivre’s Theorem and the nth root of unity?

The boys take math classes on-line in real time with other homeschoolers. Since I maintain full responsibility for their education and since I help them and correct their work throughout the week, I tag along, meaning I plug my earbuds into one of their computers and I have my pencil and notepaper ready . . . Will I ever be finished with high school math? We are very fortunate to have an incredibly smart math teacher who enjoys math and is very good at teaching it.

She keeps saying it.

“You’re going to love this. This is going to be fun.”

“Oh! It’s the next section where it gets really fun!”

She says “fun” again and my internal Inigo Montoya screams, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Numbers and variables whiz by at an alarming rate. I’m so confused, but I do understand some of the words: words such as “the” and “when.”

The word “dot” flies by, and I realize that math can make a word like “dot” confusing. Vector dot multiplication or maybe it’s dot product of vectors. We say “dot” instead of “times.” That much I understand.

The word “orthogonal” appears on the computer screen and I blurt out “math with braces!” The boys look at me and roll their eyes. The teacher makes an analogy to the orthodontist and I grin. The boys look at me and sigh.

“See! I totally get this.” Then after their eyes roll back down in the correct position, I continue, “You get it, too, right? RIGHT?” Please, for the love of all that is sacred and holy and academic tell me you get it, because there is no way I am going to do a better job of explaining the dot product of vectors to you. 

Did you know that the word “dot” can also mean a woman’s marriage dowry? I guess if you are well-versed in civil law then you know that, but I didn’t know that. There’s so much I don’t know.

But this I do know: I am going to make the boys do math over winter break. First, and most importantly, because it needs to be done. Second, because doing math over winter break (when you feel like you should have the right to play video games and run around like wild men in the woods all week long) is teaching a whole lot more than just math. It’s teaching about life.

It’s teaching about being a grown-up. Sometimes being grown-up is going to feel like doing math homework and math exams over break. That’s life. Doing the hard stuff when you don’t want to do it is what the world calls maturity. (If you love math and spend your winter break figuring out the reduced row echelon form of a matrix for fun, then substitute in whatever you struggle with, and know that you are a mystery to me!)

My boys will thank me someday. They will be functioning members of society because of math. Not because they mastered the properties of the dot product (which they BETTER master!), but because they worked hard during winter break.

They need to know many formulas, facts, and figures to move on, progress, think critically, and finally graduate, which is why we spend a huge amount of time learning those things (over and over and over), but they’ll never know EVERYTHING. Heck, I didn’t know all the various meanings of “dot” until I was 47 years old! An excellent education will also teach them that sometimes math has to be done over winter break. Like it or not. Welcome to maturity. It’s great fun!

As I wander through life and bump into people of all ages, I can usually tell which folks were made to do math over winter break.

So, maybe, just maybe, I do understand more about the order of the universe than I thought.

And also, math, thank you for ruining winter break for my boys. No. Really. Thank you!

  One Response to “Math and Life: Parallels”

  1. I’m with you on this one Kian. When I was working in the schools and would have an advanced placement math class, (I had no clue what they were talking about), I asked for volunteers to help others solve the problem. Diary is something I look forward to reading everytime you add to your writings.

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