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Stick-to-it-iv-ness

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I found this blog on how math makes people feel stupid from Math With Bad Drawings, via Slate, and have been musing on the topic for a few days.

A lot of people hate math. Dan Meyer shows just how much people hate math:

And American society says it’s okay to hate math. A lot of people don’t like it and never need it… or so we’re told. In fact, if you don’t understand one day in your high school geometry class, it’s okay to say you hate all of math, not just geometry proofs about angles or trig functions. But if you’re not doing well in, say, English class, you are just not-a-modern-poetry person, or not-a-British-novel person. Discounting the whole subject isn’t acceptable or even considered.

For me, history class made me feel stupid. To pass tests, all I had to do was memorize a bunch of dates and people, and I’d be fine. I’ve lost track of how many ways I’ve tried to remember names and dates (mnemonics, thinking of pictures with labels, flashcards, you name it). Strangely, I can remember numbers and strings of words (like phone numbers and email addresses) pretty easily. But, names and dates did not work for me, and still don’t, which is pretty embarrassing as a teacher trying to remember student names. History class was just painful. I’m not saying that all of history is merely memorizing names and dates, but that is the way that it’s taught in a lot of classrooms.

In college, I actually learned a bit of history through art history classes, because I was trying to learn information about the significance of artworks, which happened to include some historical contexts. I drew rough sketches of the slides next to my written notes, which jogged my memory. And even though I could describe and contrast characteristics of styles and methods, I still had difficulty identifying the titles, the artists, and the date of fabrication.

I liked music, so my mom signed me up for piano lessons when I was 6 or 7. Piano was not my thing, but I was forced to continue the lessons for a number of years. In 5th grade, I found that I liked band a whole lot more and continued that into college.

Sticktoitivness is, I think, a Midwestern term, and something that was impressed upon me in my childhood. It’s the need, the drive to continue to work at a thing until it’s done. It’s sort-of kind-of stubbornness, but with a positive connotation. I had to take four years of social studies in high school and some art history in college, so I just figured out how to do it.

So, when do you, as a learner, have to just suck it up and stick-with-it?

And, how, as a teacher, do you try to help your students get through it? Is it always by integrating other subjects in a non-token way?

And on a societal-big-picture wavelength, when is it okay to denigrate entire subjects? (Okay, really, it’s not okay to write anything off.) Here’s a more grey-area-question: When is it okay to give up and declare yourself just not a good [fill in the blank] person?

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