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How Hawaii Turned Me Into a Math Hater

October 25, 2012

I’m pretty sure I’ve read somewhere that a person’s feelings toward math during the first years of algebra determine whether or not they’ll be good at math later, or if they’ll just give up and read Jane Austen.

Actually, I know where I read that. It was on this blog, right now, and it’s true. I don’t have a study to prove this, but sometimes you don’t need to put a bunch of kids in a fake classroom and watch their reactions through a two-way mirror to know something is true. I know it’s true because of Hawaii.

In the eighth grade, students who had shown themselves to be “above average” were put into a pre-algebra class. I was one of those students because I’m really good at faking that I understand what’s going on. It’s all in the eyes. If you maintain eye contact with the teacher and don’t wrinkle your eyebrows, they’ll think you understand neuroscience in the second grade.

But before algebra came along, I think I really did understand math. Multiplication, division and fractions! What else does a person need to know?

However, the school system thought I was smart enough to start algebra, so I did. And this is the year they decided to try something new called Hawaii algebra. The big premise behind Hawaii algebra is that you teach yourself. Each student goes home, reads the lesson, completes a few equations, and then learns everything they did wrong in class the next day.

Let’s just take a minute to revel in how stupid that is.

Hey kids! We know this whole algebra thing is completely new to you, but we think you’ll enjoy it. Just think of it as a mystery where you’re going to spend the next several years of your life trying to find out who Mr. X is! Except we’re not going to tell you anything about Mr. X and then put you in the middle of this corn maze and let you figure it out for yourself. And if you make a mistake, the maze will catch on fire and you’ll spend the rest of your life thinking you’re horrible at math and might as well major in philosophy.”

We started to “learn” algebra backwards and spent each day in class re-learning what we thought we learned in class. I began to hate math and going to that class. I honestly remember not having any clue what was going on. Though, somehow, I managed to get a B in that class. Pity from the teacher? Or maybe I understood more than I thought, but just hated the methods.

But I’m left with the question as to why anyone would think this was a good idea. Who in their right mind thinks every single child in a classroom can just read an explanation of a mathematical practice and understand it? The University of Hawaii apparently. And so began my life-long hatred of mathematics. The sweet lure of books had been calling my name for a long time, and her siren call grew louder each time I entered that classroom.

But at least I didn’t end up majoring in *philosophy. Instead, I majored in journalism, which we all know is a thriving industry that is sure to outlive mathematics.


*Calm down philosophy majors. I’m sure it’s a lovely subject of study and will come in handy when you’re looking for employment. Besides, It’s not as though a single person outside of teachers and nurses ever actually use their major when finding a job.

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