Not many people particularly enjoy failing at something. But people react to failure differently. In an academic setting, it’d be nice if people didn’t mind failing at least once. Just to try it out. Perhaps they’ll see that failure is often a good thing.
I browse through the #physics and #math tags (I don’t know why) here on tumblr every once in a while, and it is often mostly depressing. There are too many posts saying “f*** math” and “I hate math/physics” etc. If you’re reading this, you are probably all too aware of this fact.
I say you should expect to fail. You are, after all, doing something you’ve never seen, never tried before. No you won’t understand it at first. For those of us who haven’ accepted this yet, there seems to be a sense of entitlement. Academic entitlement, which has the attitude of “screw this” attached to it. And someone can know that failure is key to understanding, to knowing, in one subject but disregard it in another subject. Case: someone might be a genius on some particular musical instrument and they might never be able to get over an algebra hurdle. How do you become a musical genius? You suck for a long time and gradually get better through practice. More than that, a huge investment in time must be made. How can anyone expect to be good at physics or math without patience and while spending only a few short hours per week on it? I’ve been doing physics for six straight years and there is plenty I don’t understand. But I don’t lose sleep over that.
People get frustrated when they don’t understand some concept. I can especially speak for math and science; I’ve taught and tutored both as well as taken classes in both. It is because people expect to understand something right away. Recall this person has perhaps NEVER seen this before.
Is there less hatred for English? For learning foreign languages, or for other classes? I honestly don’t know. But you get certain reactions when you mention math versus when English is mentioned, for example. Perhaps it is because it is often far easier to fake your way through an English or a literature class? You don’t have to thoroughly understand the literature to write about it. But without such understanding in math classes, you simply cannot move on.
This claim stems from the precision of the language in question, as far as I’m concerned. Though to be fair, I haven’t given this too much serious thought. Spoken (and written) word is inherently ambiguous. Math can be ambiguous, but the math most people are taught always live in a framework with a precise definition. Therefore only certain statements are true, certain operations are true.
But be honest, mathematics is simply a foreign language. It has its own syntax, grammar, and logic. We can use it to describe the world, as we can use English to paint a picture of the world. It can be used to describe something we can never see nor touch, just as we write fantasy stories. Math is just a language that can be learned, I honestly believe that now. And like English, we can know the syntax and grammar all we want without a true understanding of what the storiesare saying. There are ways of coasting through both without really knowing either subject, their complexities and subtleties.
Perhaps it is too much to ask of a growing mind, the teenagers and young adults tend to be the most vocal in their frustrations (though that could be simply a selection bias: the younger generation likely use tumblr more than older folks). But the lesson of expecting to fail should be instilled in everyone. I certainly know it, but I have NOT internalized it in all aspect of learning (in social situations, for example, I still feel plenty of anxiety). But I’m getting better. And there is no need to complain. </rant>
That being said, the students are definitely not to be blamed for everything. The way math and science is often taught in both university and before is not, let’s say, ideal. But that is the subject of another post.