February 24, 2012
After hearing friends rave about a new TV series called “Touch”, I finally broke down and watched the pilot on VOD. The series is about a man who lost his wife in the World Trade Center attacks and is left to take care of his emotionally-challenged eleven-year old boy who has a gift with numbers. The young boy is a mathematics genius and is able to see the interconnectivity of life and people through numbers and can predict events. Watching this series made me think of my own personal relationship with the subject of mathematics. While I relished solving word problems in crossword puzzles or writing stories, It had a difficult relationship with mathematics. What is it with mathematics?
In a study released in 2008 by the American Mathematical Society, it was determined that the USA has fallen behind in math education of both girls and boys. Much of the disinterest in mathematics appears to be cultural. According to the study, it is not part of the American culture to value talent in mathematics and this cultural mindset discourages boys and girls from excelling in the field. In fact the study showed that the boys and girls, especially girls who seemed to excel in math competitions in US schools were children of families recently immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Russia, Romania, China, S. Korea, where the teaching of mathematics and its importance is a key component of those countries’ educational curriculum.
In my family, education has been first and foremost. I had the privilege of attending private schools in Iran and England, and here in the US. But I always feared mathematics, it was the least favorite of my subjects. I envied those classmates who seemed to just get it. For them solving mathematical equations was as easy as 2+2. Yet, I struggled. I avoided a math course in college by majoring in Political Science. But when I set my sights to grad school for an MBA, the dreaded GMAT with its math component sent me running to my uncle, a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and a professor in mathematics, for intensive tutoring. Watching him solve the math problems on the GMAT test samples was like watching a master painter at work with his paintbrushes. It seemed so effortless and natural. He would chuckle at the problems and nod his head at their simplicity while I looked on enviously.
Why can’t we all benefit from the beauty of mathematics? Why can’t we all experience the same joy felt by those who get it? Is it cultural? Fearing to be labeled as nerds and ostracized at school, boys and girls almost intentionally avoid or dismiss math preventing any chance of excelling in the subject. Have we placed stigmas on math? We’ve all heard comments like “math is hard,” or “only boys are good at math,” and the best one of all “you’ll never use math in real life.”
In the TV series “Touch,” the little boy doesn’t speak, yet he communicates through numbers. Mathematics is a language and like any language we need to learn it at a very early age and we need to make it fun and interesting and relevant. Imagine how enriched our lives would be if we were able to see the interconnectivity of all life form, a gift that words alone do not accomplish, but with a little help from mathematics, we could see the world with a new perspective.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)