Monday, January 26, 2015

An Odium For Numbers

I've never been one to care much for numbers. To me, numbers have no personality, no life, no color. In my mind they are black and white, while words are rife with color and meaning and emotions. Words, in fact, have different meanings, different contexts. Words can be arranged in so many diverse ways that one can hardly imagine ever being bored with them. Numbers, on the other hand, are tediously always the same.

Much like every other elementary school student, I learned to do sums and carryovers and subtractions and borrowing, later moving on to learn the multiplication tables and yes, I can even do long division, which I swear—er—assert that many of today's students cannot, being utterly dependent on their calculators. It wasn't particularly enjoyable, but it was one of those things children had to do in those days, like clean their rooms and wash the dishes.

In high school, my feelings about mathematics classes became steadily more and more negative. Algebra didn't thrill me, but geometry—well, it seemed nonsensical to have to prove a theory that someone else had already proven, and probably someone who actually enjoyed doing it—was a struggle, and I can't even tell you how dreadful I was at trigonometry and slide rulers.

Well, a great deal of time has passed since then, and I concede that I have had to use numbers quite often in my life—even algebra and geometry, although I can't recall a single incident where I've had to prove a theorem or use a slide rule. With the exception of trigonometry, I don't regret having learned them. They are tools. Nothing more or less.

Words, on the other hand, are more than tools. You use them to tell a story, but the same story can be told with different words that paint an entirely different picture in your mind. Reading them opens up your mind to endless possibilities, and the ability to write them gives you the power to unleash the imaginations of others.

Writers are powerful. Numbers are useful. But you need both.

You may have gathered that I am a visual, verbal person. I have always had these stories running rampant in my head, calling out to me to be written for the enjoyment of others. Numbers have never called out to me. They are what they are. I freely admit my preferences. Perhaps some numbers person wishes to dispute this. Perhaps they can look at the clouds and see numbers calling out to them? I personally have never had this experience. I like words better. We must agree to differ.

But it seems to me that these days, nothing matters so much as numbers.

In education, it's all about “measuring”. Tests galore. A student knows her future will be determined by tests, grades and evaluations. But some things cannot be measured by numbers. Such as:

  • persistence 
  • curiosity 
  • enthusiasm 
  • courage 
  • leadership 
  • creativity 
  • resourcefulness 
  • self discipline 
  • sense of wonder 
  • big picture-thinking 
  • compassion 
  • reliability 
  • motivation 
  • humor 
  • empathy 
  • sense of beauty 
  • humility 
  • resilience 

I would argue that these things are far more important to most students than calculus; however, they can neither be taught nor tested, and are therefore considered less important than the ability to pass tests and courses. In my view, it is appalling that so many people value an education only for the monetary advantage it can give. Education should be much more about opening the mind than being able to regurgitate facts, and employers surely want their employees to be able to do more than just follow instructions. The last thing we should be doing is turning off future Steve Jobses by minimizing the unique skills they were born with in order to get them to spew out facts like everyone else. 

A wordlet of a sentence from my WIP

Because the truth is, every person is unique, and that uniqueness cannot be measured by mere numbers. Education should be about cultivating each child's uniqueness and not about trying to make them all the same. But until the powers-that-be understand this, our schools will still turn out students who can take tests, but hate learning. Who will look at a beautiful painting and see dollar signs instead of beauty. Who never really understand what they are missing.

Because numbers cannot tell a story. They just are.

About Susana

Susana has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar. Voracious reading led to a passion for writing, and her fascination with romance and people of the past landed her firmly in the field of historical romance.

A teacher in her former life—but not a math teacher—Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and central Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.

Susana’s Parlour (Regency Blog) • Susana’s Morning Room (Romance Blog)


Tina Donahue said...

Fascinating blog, Susana. Alas, numbers have never been my friend. Sucked at math all through school. :(

Fiona McGier said...

I've always scored higher on math aptitude tests, than on any other subject. But like you, I find it dull. Once you know how to get the right answer, it's always the same. But with writing? The beauty is in the words. So I followed my heart and got an English major.

After raising my 4 kids, I've spent the last 11 years subbing, since no one wants to hire an aging teacher. And you're right. Our schools are set up to produce cookie-cutter people...the factory workers that we used to, but no longer need.

Education should be a chance to broaden your mind, to take a chance and follow your interests to learn new things...just because. Instead kids are turned off by multiple worksheets, teachers who are forced to follow district(parent) rules and do things they know won't work, and way too much standardized testing. What a pity.

And the same folks who bitch about how much teachers make, are aghast that we are so far behind the rest of the world in test scores. But in other countries, teaching is a well-respected position that pays a very good wage. Coincidence? I think not!

I don't know what the solution is, but I worry about our future generations, who may never learn the beauty of words as I did. They're too busy playing "candy crush" or wasting their time on other rubbish.