When does your mind rebel?

Stephen Baker

I've been thinking a lot recently about why I was a near failure in math. A lot of it has to do with my inability in my teenage years to quash a mutiny in my head. Whenever I saw a page with formulas on in, I would immediately be overcome with impatience and frustration. Instead of thinking, "How do I do this?" I would think: "Why do I have to do this, I hate doing this, this is hard..." Then I would turn the page. I face the same paralyzing thought process when dealing with Ikea assembly instructions. Even surfing to this very interesting site of tying shoes, (ex Joho), I'm daunted by the challenge of bending my mind to enter this spacial world. (So instead of taking time to study the shoelace diagrams, I blog about it. Diagrams=hard, words=easy)

One key to education is teaching people to do stuff they hate, to stick with something when every bone in their body is screaming scram. I talk to foreign mathematicians about why other countries breed more of their kind. Do they have better ways of teaching math in India or Romania? Most of them say no. The message in their cultures, they say, is that math may be boring, it may be hard, but kids just have to learn it. Tough. And eat those brussel sprouts, too.

Finding a passion is terrific. Everyone should do it. But everyone should also be equipped to tackle the stuff they hate. This ability is a great liberator. Those who can master what they hate are free. They have confidence that can learn or do virtually anything. They're not fenced in by their preferences. And sometimes when they tackle something they hate, they end up loving it.

I'm making progress in this area. I do Ikea furniture now. I'm diving into math for the book I'm writing. But given a choice between studying that shoelaces page and going off for a cup of coffee... well that's a no-brainer. That'll be a triple latte, please.

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