I couldn’t get away from school fast enough. My stomach tightened, and I pressed the palm of my hand against the anxiety that balled up in my chest. I’d just barely passed the math test last week, and today’s lesson left me bewildered. Walking down the road towards the restaurant where my mom waitressed, I hoped it wasn’t busy.
Mom set down a Coke with ice and I took a long sip through the straw. “I’ve never really liked math, but I always understood it—until now. I’m scared, Mom.”
“Why don’t you ask Grandpa for help? He’s always been good with numbers,” Mom said as she filled the coffee pot.
Just having a plan made me feel a little better. The corners of my Grandpa’s eyes crinkled with pleasure when I asked him to help me with my math. I pulled up a chair to his recliner and placed my grade 7 math book on a rickety little table between us.
For an hour he reviewed the concepts with me that I’d failed to grasp and made sense of the problems that had left me feeling ill. More importantly, though, he showed me math could be fun like doing a puzzle or discovering the answer to a riddle.
I didn’t learn to love math all at once, but I did come to appreciate it. I became fascinated with geometry, and Pythagoras’ theorem stayed locked inside my mind ever since. The number Pi intrigued me—the key that unlocks circles, cylinders, and spheres. It’s perfect and yet irrational.
I often hear students and parents bemoan that they will never use the math they are learning, but take a moment and think of how dreary our lives would be if we limited our education to what we thought we would use every day. Why bother going to school beyond grade 3? Do we really need to know how to write a poem or how many planets circle the sun? Do we need to know who Alexander the Great was or Isaac Newton? Most of us don’t use this information in our day-to-day lives, but undoubtedly it enriches us. So does math.
Owning math concepts—not just knowing them enough to pass a test—is what makes them useful. I’m not sure in what grade I learned cross multiplication, but I’ve used it countless times since for reducing a recipe or comparing the prices of similar products. I’ve used Pythagoras’ theorem to determine how long the rafters should be when we were building our house. And just like a magnificent waterfall can give us a glimpse into the nature and beauty of God, math can reveal a little of God too—his perfection and infiniteness.
Just spending one hour with someone who loved math showed me math could be useful, fun, and beautiful. I challenge you to be that for your children, the person who sparks in them a passion for learning—even learning math.