I just spent a little time helping my daughter with her grade 9 math. This and the Ken Robinson video I watched a few days ago got me thinking back to my school days.

More specifically why I failed math.

I came across the answer a few years ago when I did one of those on line personality tests. Kind of like the Meyers Briggs one, I forget the name of it. It had one paragraph that just absolutely nailed me. I can summarize it in one word, why.

If I don't see, know, or understand why I am being asked to do something I won't do it.


So now as I looked at my daughter's math homework she got the full brunt of her Dad's mental block.

It was a simple little equation, or polynomial, or something.

It had a letter in it so I asked her are we solving for X?

Answer, no.

Ok, why is X in there.

Answer, I dunno it just is.

Question, why are we doing this, what is the purpose?

Answer, I dunno, Dad go get Mom.

Yes princess.

My wife is the exact opposite of me. She will learn anything, or at least memorize it, and her only concern is getting the highest mark possible.

My only concern is why are we doing this, and I could care less about the mark. 30 years later I still can't do something for no apparent reason, and apparently the reason, we just have to, still doesn't resonate with me.

Now watch the Ken Robinson video.

I did graduate from high school with a diploma. I knew deep down that I wasn't stupid, but I did feel a little stupid after my 12 year stint, and I certainly was a failure as far as the education system was concerned.

After high school I got a job in a cattle feedlot. I made $6.50 an hour and worked 10 hours a day, 12 days on, 2 days off. In the winter you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.

After a year of that I began to re think this whole education thing.

So I went to the local college and sat down with a councillor. She said I could take high school over again at the college and do it in a year. I said ok. She also stated that based on my high school marks I must take a reading course.

She didn't think I could read.

Now when I said I graduated from high school I mean I found out what the minimum requirements were to graduate and I achieved them. :)

I took all the stupid courses (I think they call them something else), not the matric courses that you needed to go on to university.

My big problem in school was math, I found after failing the first high school math course that I couldn't pass it without doing any of the work. I could pass all the other courses with out doing anything, but not math.

So I took it again and did enough to pass the grade 10 math, and then did enough to get the credits in the grade 11 math, and that was it, that was all you needed to get the diploma.

So now a year later here I am in college, doing all the matric high school courses, math, biology, chemistry, physics, English, and of course "reading".

After 6 years (junior and senior high) of basically failing math I wasn't too confident I could do this.

I still remember my marks from the first four math tests, 92%, 89%, 92%, and 89%.

What happened?

One I tried, two this was my idea, three I was paying for it, and four I was in physics and chemistry at the same time and actually found a use for this new math I was learning. You actually used it in these courses to do something, especially physics.

So I proved to myself that I wasn't stupid and I could do math if I wanted to. I wasn't gifted at it, but I could do it.

This begs the question whose fault was it that I failed math in high school and basically wasted those 3 years?

Ken Robinson suggests the education system was at fault. I would suggest it was my fault. I'm not sure in a mass produced system of public school we can find the individual triggers in every single student that will motivate them to do the work.

So I have to ask myself why didn't I do it? I'm not lazy, I work very hard. But again only on the things I see value or a reason in. This has been a pretty good trait for me as an adult but probably not so good in a teenage boy. As teenage boys by definition are idiots.

Could a teacher have found the right trigger for me? Probably, but it would have taken a very special teacher to reach into my weird psyche and pull out the reason for me to do this work. I think it is too much to ask in a public school system.

My wife (who is a teacher) and I now see this with our children. Children who have inherited some of their Father's "traits". We have meetings with their teachers and we talk about some "individual" programs we can use to help them. But in the end they seem to get stuck back in the herd and left to suffer there.

So it's our job to help them find their passion in life, find it, nurture it, and help them run with it as far as they can go.


longandwrong said...

Math(s) is the necessary evil that lets you understand the interesting stuff like physics, engineering and trading.

Oops, I mentioned trading.

Solfest said...


Solfest said...

You know LW I was thinking about math again and I really need to stop because it's annoying.

Anyway, what I was thinking is that math is taught based on building layers of concepts on top of one another.

So that at the end, if there is one, you are able to do all those wonderful things in engineering, physics, and the likes.

I truly believe, that for me, I would have learned better if I had been given the difficult questions first and then learned all the concepts required to solve the problem.

Basically completely backwards from how it is taught.

Just a thought, I'll stop now.

longandwrong said...

I also promise to stop now BUT (after 2 days mulling this over)...

Is this because reductionist science has proved so succesful we have applied it to everything else, including education?

As a physicist it makes sense to get excited about quarks (well, I do) but is it reasonable to get excited about the building blocks of knowledge rather than the fascinating world that they eventually construct?

My kid is currently learning phonics, but she just wants to be able to read books!

Solfest said...

In the future please provide links to your wacky ideas.

Reductionist science?


Back in a bit.

Solfest said...

I'm not saying everyone should be taught this way. I would think most should not.

It comes down to all those little individual brains sitting in school all being fed the same way while they absorb the information differently.

The system has to use what works for the majority, and for those who are missed by this system, too bad.

Your daughter learning phonics is a prime example as others will learn better via whole language.

Maybe it comes down to laziness, we enjoy doing what we are good at because it is easier than doing what we are not good at.

Reading was always easy for me, I love to read and have read constantly my whole life. As for math, let's just say I would not choose to do it on weekends for fun.

So, do what you're good at and hire someone else to do the rest.

Joe Luzzi said...

I'm afraid for when I have a kid and they start asking me questions like that haha. I'm okay at math now... but i figure by the time a kid and that kid reaches 9th grade... I'm sure it will be much different

Solfest said...

Joe the first thing you learn after you have a child is the phrase, go ask your Mother.

Attitude Trader said...



Solfest said...


Attitude Trader said...

Look, I had several paragraphs of retort written including, "oh, so we're back to posting are we?," "I did well in high school, proved I could do well in college but didn't want to finish, so I didn't, and I'm proud of it," "I'm a voracious learner of things I want to learn about", "great video, I've seen it before, the guy is hilarious," "before my daughter started college at our house it was 'go ask your father'," etc.

But it was getting way too long so I summed it all up (in my mind anyway) with an "Arrrrrr!" (not unlike a "moo" that I've seen somewhere before...).


Solfest said...

"I'm a voracious learner of things I want to learn about"

That's all you need in life. :)

Attitude Trader said...