As a school child, I suffered from dyscalculia. As teachers rushed ahead on the lessons, I fell further and further behind. Yet, sitting there at my desk in primary school, daydreaming one day, I independently discovered the fibonacci numbers. I said nothing about this; it did not occur to me there was anything remarkable about my discovery, because surely, everyone knew this. A few years later, I learned the name of the sequence.
In middle school, the best maths students got the best teachers. Those of us who were struggling with the concepts were awarded to the less talented teachers, and we fell even further behind.
In high school, I got A’s in geometry, but F’s in algebra. The geometry teacher paced the lessons in a way that was easy for me to follow. For once, I didn’t feel stupid. The algebra teacher was an old fart who used to be the school football coach, who loved to bore us with stories of his sports achievements. He threatened to flunk me from the class, which would have prevented me from being able to graduate, but ultimately he let me have a D-.
In college, I remained lost and uninterested in the low level algebra class that was required for a BA. I switched to the BFA program when I learned that it required neither math nor a foreign language, which I also sucked at. So, I was able to earn a degree to make my parents happy.
Years later, after I had children, I decided to remediate my deficiency in algebra. There was no Amazon website then, so I went to a local community college book store, and there I purchased a copy of “Essential Algebra,” by Johnston, Willis, Lazaris. That book was the first math book I ever looked at that actually demystified the subject and made it easy to understand. Without the pressure of deadlines and having to keep up with other people, I was able to go back over a topic again and again, until I understood it. I worked my way through the book, and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I completed the final exercises at the end. I proved to myself that I wasn’t stupid, and that I could learn mathematics.
I agree with the writer of this article, that schools take the wrong approach in teaching math. It is always taught as if it is all “accountant calculations.” The emphasis is on getting the correct answers, instead of encouraging exploration and curiosity. I know that getting correct answers is very important in science and engineering, but that emphasis in school just made me freeze up with anxiety. As an adult, I learned that there are areas of mathematics that challenge the imagination.