From square one
Math should be given more attention in the lower grades to encourage students to pursue the subject
Math should be more mainstream. And I don't mean that it ought to belong to more than just the academic hipsters of the world. I mean that from the earliest points in education math ought to be portrayed in the same light as reading, science and history. The impetus behind this desire, quite frankly, is that I am sick and tired of answering the question haunting most second years and undergraduates, in general, "What's your major?" and being met with either googly eyes, incredulous scowls or the occasional and always inspiring, "Oh, I hate math!" There is, of course, no appropriate response to any of the reactions, especially the last. There is just something about having your passion reduced to the object of hatred which really rubs you the wrong way and for some reason leaves you less inclined to inquire about that person's major.
I could rant and rave about the beauty inherent to the symmetries in mathematics and how the subtle intricacies demonstrate a greater interconnectedness which is truly breathtaking, but then I might alienate myself and reveal how incredibly nerdy I am, perhaps validating the many negative responses which I have received when describing my major. Rather than describe what I believe to be self-evident about mathematics, I will present the incredibly unfair situation created by the way math is taught and why this should change.
To start, I will assert there are not only a disproportionately low number of people who love math but also a disproportionately higher number of people who despise math. I am not so upset about the lack of love - even a math major knows love is mysterious and beyond our understanding to attempt to alter. But the fact that so many of my peers have an outright hatred for math is quite disconcerting. Few students ever proclaim their disdain for politics, English, Spanish or really any other major. There are plenty, though, who fear math and even broader math-based majors as if they were carrion riddled with plague. This I blame on how we are introduced to math at a young age, and really how it is portrayed all through middle and high school.
The celebrity subject of elementary education is undoubtedly English, which is understandable because reading and writing are rather important. There are videos and activities and all kinds of resources devoted to reading and writing. That reading and writing are given more attention than math I can at least understand, but science and history too? It is inconceivable that such a transgression might be allowed. Bill Nye has been making science cool since he first donned the lab coat and bowtie, and the Discovery Channel has been producing specials for classroom use since the days of the dinosaurs. History and social studies are just as unfairly glorified. Just because there is a plethora of movies with which teachers can placate unruly pre-teens doesn't mean that history should be presented as more important than math.
That is math's problem, though. How could math be expected to compete with Bill Nye and history classes which include movies every other week? Not to mention gym and music class, let alone recess and lunch. Math is doomed from the first day of kindergarten, when its only shot is that some five-year-old will stumble upon all its symmetrical majesty from learning to count past his fingers and toes. From there it's worksheet after worksheet, with nary a cartoon or lovable spokesman in sight. Multiplication tables sound plain enough without having to compete with books which have cloud formations and show how rocks are formed, as well as different wars with planes and tanks and ships. How could a ten-year-old possibly be more enthralled with equations than pictures of cumulonimbus clouds and fleets of planes going off to make war? How could the division family of six - a perfect number! - be as interesting as learning how to write and keep journals and read about magical lands of romance?
The only way this situation might be remedied is to give math, a subject with as much practical importance as English, a little more attention in the lower grades. This doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of movies or cartoons, but we could certainly learn from other developed and industrious countries such as Germany and Japan which emphasize math far more in their respective education schemas, and as a result see populaces which are, on average, far more adept at arithmetic than our own. Japan's school systems sponsor countless competitions for much more than simple tests and foster enthusiasm for the subject by promoting different manifestations of math. This is a model we ought to emulate.
Math at the college level is no more difficult than politics, history or science. This is not to say that everyone ought to be equally capable of all these, but rather that no particular major requires more talent or practice than another. And yet for some reason everybody hates math. If only it had some cartoon hero or its own television channel, then maybe I wouldn't have to deal with all the enmity. And this would most certainly be to the benefit of society. Math is everywhere, and quite practical. From personal finance to groceries, arithmetic pervades our culture. It's high time we accept it, make it popular and integrate - hah! - those math hipsters so we can all share the beauty of this inspiring subject.
Blake Blaze is a Viewpoint writer.