5/12/15: In Defense of Math and Polymaths

Math is, by and large, one of the most hated subjects taught in school; at least, it seems that way in my high school. Math is a subject to be groaned at, complained about, detested, but enjoyed? Never.

In elementary school, someone in administration decided I was too advanced for my peers, so I was moved into a class with kids two years older than myself, where I remain today. I don’t think I was a prodigy in any way, but being put on the accelerated track made me live up to those expectations, and since then I’ve been an engaged, interested math student. This year, I completed BC Calculus, which was easier than I expected it to be after years of hearing about Calculus in popular culture.

I was never in love with math growing up; I was good at it, but it was still a headache. This year, though, math became my favorite class and a subject I’m seriously interested in pursuing in college.

Thanks to an incredible teacher, I’ve learned that there’s so much more to math than memorizing formulas. There are, in fact, practical applications of Calculus!

Mostly, though, I like math because I enjoy solving problems and persevering in the face of confusion and difficulty. Math makes me feel confident about myself and makes me feel like a valuable member of the classroom.

I think it’s true of any school subject: you like it when you’re good at it, when you find some intrinsic value in it, and you have a good teacher. When you have a bad teacher, there’s simply no way to enjoy a subject; good luck. It’s also hard to get involved in subjects that you are weak in, as uncomfortable as the concept is; we gravitate towards things we are good at and away from things we struggle with. Finally, we don’t have to think our subject is as precious as God or the key to the universe; we just have to find some sort of inner enjoyment with it.

Math this year got me into thinking about exactly where I want to go with my life, and the truth is, I have no idea. Do I want to sit around and either a) teach calculus to high schoolers or b) spend my life cooped up in a college classroom scribbling formulas on the board? No, not really. I want to get out and do things and meet people and pursue something, I just don’t know what that something is. I like science, but I don’t want to sit in a lab all day; I like writing, but I want to get out in the world and have some STEM involvement.

I don’t know how people choose their niche yet; to me, the decision seems impossible. How can you possibly select one field of study and work when there are literally hundreds of fields to choose from, all interesting and meriting your time?

The Ancient Greeks really had it figured out. All of the prodigious ones, the Platos and Pythagorases and Socrates of the world, focused on not one, not two, but at least three disciplines of study. Pythagorus not only founded that one theorem I’m sure you’ve all forgotten, but he was an artist and a musician and a scientist and wrote. They were all polymaths, people who focus on a number of fields and have talent in each.

I know this isn’t a realistic life goal, and I’m okay with that. These next five or so years of my life can be dedicated to learning a little about everything, so I can know what little thing to learn everything about. Let’s just hope I’m able to make that decision when the time comes. Were you?

4 thoughts on “5/12/15: In Defense of Math and Polymaths

  1. Hello.

    Look Im 34 years old and I’ve know what to choose from life as a career. As you become an adult you will to realize something very very liberating: You don´t have to marry a carreer.

    I spend my days between Communications related projects (got a degree in journalism) and Stage Acting and Production (got a degree on that as well). On the side I’m becoming a professional photographer and I’m thinking about learning how to repair Laptops, PC’s a Mobile Phones. Tomorrow I might fall in love again with physics or get to know a subject I didn’t know it existed. (I’m Catholic and last week I discovered the field of Apologetics inside the Theology field).

    Bottom line is: nothing is forever and you can always change your mind and decisions. It’s perfectly fine. I had to go through a very dark tunnel to learn this. Hope you don’t find that tunnel in your own path.

    You seem like a person that will bring joy and good things to society, may God bless you for you to take the right decisions as your life unfolds.

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    1. As young people, we are often told that we must “find our passion” and “dedicate our lives” to something by the end of college, and I think that’s where I get this idea from. Thank you so much for your insight, because I believe you’re right- there’s no one-size-fits-all age when everyone must decide exactly what they want to do with their life (and for many people, they spend their whole life trying new things, which honestly sounds amazing!). Thank you for calming me down and sharing!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes – a teacher can either make you love a subject you loathed or loathe a subject you loved! This is what made it and continues to make it so difficult to make a decision about my future, because I have constantly ask myself whether it is the subject or the class that I enjoy.
    It is so difficult to make career choices and I’ve come to the conclusion that there moments where we just have to trust that everything will be ok in the end 😉

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    1. That’s exactly what I have trouble with. I don’t know whether I just like the teacher or I genuinely love the subject. I guess only time will tell. I like to have faith that things will turn out well, too (they always seem to when I’m lost). Thank you!

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