Whenever motivation is discussed in a class about you, my dearest math, the answer is almost always the same: show them how the topic is applicable, and they will want to study it. The only problem with that is that not all of your wonder and majesty is applicable. More prevalent, not everything the state expects them to know about you is applicable. In fact, some of it is downright silly.
If you ask most adults why you are important and worthy of study, they will say that it is because you are useful for solving problems. If you ask those same adults how much of the math they learned in high school they use on a regular basis, they will tell you that they use little to none.
There is this disconnect. Society is convinced that you are simultaneously useful and useless.
Some have tried to rectify this discrepancy by talking about how each part of you is useful to some profession later on, and since high schoolers don’t actually know what they are going to end up doing, we should teach them all everything there is to know about you.
This almost makes sense. This almost rectifies the issue. However, it doesn’t change the here and now and reeks of someone who has never dealt with a high schooler. Since they doesn’t know what they are going to do, they don’t know whether or not they need to learn this, and so a high schooler won’t waste their time learning it. The truth is, any aspect of you, my love, that someone needs to know for their job, they will be taught in the training for that job. The truth is, any aspect of you that someone wants to know for any reason can be found online. The truth is, whether or not they learn any individual part of you in high school is irrelevant. They can either learn it in college, online, or in the training for their job.
So what, then, is the point of teaching students about you in high school? If not the individual parts of you, what should we be teaching them?
However much it pains me to say it, I believe the answer to that question lies in viewing you, temporarily, as less than you are. Let’s try viewing you in the framework of a mere mortal:
If you know that a particular person is going to be important to your child later on in life, say their grandparents, you don’t start by telling them how grandma’s kidneys work. You don’t start by telling them about this one time when grandpappy worked as a Client Data and Management Information Consultant. You don’t start by telling them about granny’s middle school GPA.
You let the child spend time around them.
To be perfectly honest, from a child’s perspective, no one besides their parents seems to be of particular immediate recognizable import. And yet, we know that later in life, people like grandparents can become extremely important later in life.
So do we tell them that they should pay attention to granny because one day they might need encouragement from her about doing badly in a middle school history class? Do we tell them that they should pay attention to grandpappy because one day they might need help analyzing data and making decisions about management? Do we tell them that they should pay attention to grandma’s kidneys because one day she might need a new one?
We tell them about how grandma and grandpappy and granny love them and are fun people to be around and that they can feel safe around them. If they are comfortable approaching their grandparents, they can get all the rest when they actually need it.
What if we, as a society, took a similar approach to teaching our children about you, my dearest math? What if, instead of trying to convince kids to pay attention to minute details that may or may not become important, we teach them how to be comfortable around you? What if, instead of teaching this specific item in case they need it in life, we teach them how to talk to you and how to understand what you are saying to them?
What if we quit treating you like a toolbox full of an inordinate number of potentially useful tools and started treating you like a grandparent full of an infinite amount of potentially useful wisdom?