I fell off the math train early. Like many girls and many more creative people, I convinced myself that I had an inborn Teflon math resistance. Perhaps – I thought – more likely – I assured myself – I have a math disability. Even if I wanted to learn math, which I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to. Also, math was deliberately obtuse and designed to fluster creative types like myself. In short, math sux.
However, a couple of years ago, I was forced to go face-to-face with math, to confront my mathematical anxiety and to reconsider my beliefs about math. I’d decided I was going to homeschool my son since we’d be living on a boat and traveling, making normal school attendance a challenge. That decision meant that I had to make friends with math.
I approached math the way that I’ve approached my more technical copywriting projects and even the Perilous and Sparks series. I did a lot of research. I looked up the words I didn’t know and Googled questions like: what’s the deal with math anyway?
In my fumblings, I stumbled across several interesting articles and podcasts that looked at how math has been a tool of oppression and misinformation throughout history. While it’s been long enough now that I can’t find the original articles, I can share a couple of examples that I recall:
Understanding a concept as simple as counting in ancient civilizations (paired with astute observations) would have given you the power to predict eclipses, floods, and all manner of natural events that occur in numerical patterns. Thus were born the priestly castes demanding sacrifices for floods they knew would subside within X number of days based on past floods and math sense.
Consider Wall Street and how an understanding of numbers and formulas gives some people the ability to own private jets and robot butlers (probably) while the rest of us fly coach and make our own baloney sandwiches like suckers.
I began to think about how I’d disadvantaged myself by refusing to come to terms with math. How many times had I been taken advantage of by salesmen, bankers, and other mathematically adept people because I was too scared to try and figure out the math myself? How many opportunities had I missed because I didn’t realize I could’ve gotten a better bargain?
I realized that there are whole groups of people who benefit from my ignorance, there are whole corrupt systems that are allowed to flourish because mathematical thinking is required to topple them. Suddenly, learning math became more than a task to accomplish in order to teach my kid. It became a mission, a personal revolution.
Learning math, when you think about it, is really a revolutionary act. You’re taking control over your numbers rather than leaving them for somebody else to take care of. Understanding math is a secret weapon.