Do we need math? What about all that science? What is and isn’t science? One of the great struggles of our generation, truly. Maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but still–this argument is still treading water, for whatever reason. For as long as I can really remember, I have had an aversion to math and science, and my gut-reaction explanation for that is “I’m not good at it.”
A few months ago, though, it struck me: I’m not bad at math. I’m not bad at science. I just decided somewhere along the way that I didn’t like them, and therefore, I wasn’t good at them. Of course, it’s true that I did prefer the liberal arts-based areas of education, but I pretty much refused to take any further interest in math or science after about my sophomore year of high school. I took AP Chemistry my junior year because I wanted to have a certain teacher at the school (and share a class with my science brain boyfriend), not because Pre-AP had been a knockout course (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). Being taught and tutored by people who love science, though, made me realize that maybe it was the way it was being taught and the way I interpreted it that made me like or dislike it.
Once I started putting more effort into learning, it got easier. Of course it did. I still put it about midway in my priorities list, but I do remember enjoying the class. Sometimes I wish I would have slowed my roll on my humanities classes and put more brain into the math/science stuff. I mean, the literal last math class I took was, like, Algebra II, my junior year of high school. I’m pretty sure that was it. My parents always told me that they expected A grades from me because I was capable of making A grades, and when I wasn’t willing to put in that kind of effort anymore, I quit those classes, because I was sixteen and didn’t know what I was doing. This was the beginning of my mistake of just looking elsewhere for things I could excel in rather than pushing myself to work harder. There’s nothing wrong with tailoring your education to your successes–we need all the help we can get, these days, but sometimes I think it creates some serious educational gaps.
One thing you may not know about me is that I got an accounting minor in college, as well. Actually, I have more than a minor, because I was going to earn a double degree. The only reason I don’t is because it would have given me a few more years of school, and due to depression that wasn’t really something I was able to do at the time. I still have fantasies about getting my MBA and CPA someday–we’ll see. I don’t really put accounting in the “general math classes” category because, well, math is math and accounting is accounting. Math is, as far as I know, about the math, and accounting is about data interpretation. At the time, I said I was getting the accounting minor because I figured I should get something business-y to go with my liberal arts degree–which was also true, but I’ve later realized that I really enjoyed accounting. People always throw me a big side-eye when I say that, but it’s true. No, it wasn’t easy. Accounting is not for the faint of heart or mind. But it was enjoyable, and at times, fun. Yes, really.
I don’t really have an answer or a wish-I-would’ve fix for that, but it is something that I regret. I couldn’t have asked for a better college experience–okay, well, that’s debatable, but my English degree was very challenging and enjoyable. And I’m no hidden math/science superstar–I think we can all agree on that. But I’m not terrible at critical thinking, and I do tend to let that side of my brain slack off, just because I can.
Like most things in life, I find that, with math and science, if I apply myself and make it a mental priority, I’m magically better at it the next time I try. We all know it’s not really magic, though–there’s a reason “practice makes perfect” is a saying. I mean, one of my greatest strengths is my reading speed and comprehension. However, in 2011 I really slacked off on reading novels, just because I didn’t have the time. Now that I ride the subway for at least an hour every day, I dedicate that time exclusively to reading on my phone (or carrying an actual book with me, if I’m feeling fancy and have the room). Like magic, I can read more and longer and with greater depth, and I’m finishing books in days rather than in weeks or months.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of the increasing lack of women in the STEM fields. Because of the fact that I grew up thinking that if I didn’t like something, it was somehow my fault and that I was bad at it, rather than learning that I was capable. Because the things happening in science right now are really freaking cool and I wish I had a better basic understanding of the sciences so I could know what was going on at all times. Because women can defeat the “having it all” myth and really have it all without answering to the patriarchy to get approval on what that means.
And I’m not saying that these fields are more important than the humanities. Far from it, far from it. I mean, I’m still firmly entrenched in the humanities camp at this very moment. However, I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a divide–it should be a Venn diagram, really.
What I’m saying here is that if you think you’re bad at something, work harder at it. Make it your friend. Make it something you’re good at. I mean, the only things we dislike are things that we’re not an instant success at, right? It’s easy to just pass it off as something you aren’t naturally talented at, when in fact you might be–it might just be a difficult task. Calculus is really, really hard, but everyone I know who has practiced for hours and is good at calculus is over the moon about how much they enjoy it.
It’s true that if you don’t go into a mathematical or scientific field, you probably won’t need everything you learned growing up. I mean, that’s still true. But when you have the chance to learn it, you should. Even after school, I keep an eye out for opportunities to enrich that side of my brain. Because when someone asks me a simple math question and I don’t have the answer waiting, I don’t like it. Personally, I like to know things and have answers ready at all times, and when I don’t, I know it’s my own fault for not having prepared myself.
I think it’s really easy for students of all ages, especially young women, to decide they aren’t good at math and science, and that’s just not true. Science especially is an historically patriarchal field, but every day women are making great strides to overcome that. Let’s keep up that work. This isn’t just a post for students. This is a post for everyone. Learn something every day, something that isn’t directly related to your daily habits, something in a field you know little about. Watch documentaries on Netflix in your spare time. Take one of the millions of free courses available online at sites like Coursera. Enrich yourself.
Just, most of all, don’t sell yourself short. It’s okay to not do something because you don’t like doing it. Just don’t quit because you think you will never be good at it. Because that is just not true.