It's a beautiful metaphor that I've seen a thousand times.
Imagine being thrust into a mandatory art class. Here, in this class, they teach you how to draw lines, how to mix colors, all the fundamentals of basic artistic technique... However, after 13 years of mandatory art education, none of the students have ever been shown the works of Da Vinci, Picasso, or any of the masters... This is how we teach math.
From day one of K-12 education in the U.S.A., children are shown the facets of arithmetic, multiplication, and many other components of mathematical thought, with complexity intensifying by the year. Day by day, children are taught how to read the language of math and apply it to abstract problems for which they can not find a purpose. They never see the ways that the masters applied these rules to create beautiful theorems, pictures, or ideas.
A child will not love to write with passion and intensity until he sees the beautiful tales that can be spun and woven by his favorite novelists. An adolescent will not find meaning in painting until he sees the works of men who could beautifully intertwine the techniques of art to create masterpieces. So how can you expect children to appreciate mathematics with no experiences with its beauty?
Metaphors aside, a question I often heard among my peers is "How will this ever be important to me?"
An undeniable problem that all educators face when teaching math is letting the students know why they are doing it and all too often educators ignore this issue in order to cram information for standardized testing. This shifts the fault away from the educator and towards the system. How can you expect a teacher to demonstrate history, beauty, and application in their lectures when they are thrust into a set suffocating guidelines for teaching?
This brings us back to the frequently discussed problem of standardized testing. So in this context, how does standardized testing hurt a student's relationship with math?
It takes away the opportunity to teach application. When allotted approximately one hour per school day to learn math, give or take dependent on grade, it becomes increasingly difficult to spend time on teaching students how to apply mathematics to life in their future careers, financial dealings, or as a hobby.
It erases opportunity to demonstrate beauty and fun in mathematics. Similar to the previously mentioned issue, the time it takes to cram standardized information reduces the time that can be taken to help kids enjoy the subject.
It creates unnecessary competition and discourages students. When education begins to hinge on a numerical score, children will compare and tease and be discouraged. Often times this affects students who score both high and low, the students on the higher end being bullied as "nerds," "geeks," and the like, and students on the lower end left feeling inadequate or unintelligent, thus discouraging both parties and creating contempt for math.
Additionally, how, as a society, can we veer away from standardized testing toward a more holistic and personalized approach in our education system and help our students understand the vitality of each aspect of their education?
All change happens gradually, but the first steps can be easy, and your role can be just as vital as the teachers. As a parent, you can encourage a love for math in many ways, including things as simple as helping with homework, ranging to sharing with your child the beautiful and historical lessons of math. As a member of a community, you can donate time, money, or presence at educational meetings in order to encourage changes and shifts towards a more lively and inclusive curriculum. As an upper-level student, you can donate your time to local schools and volunteer with struggling students, or even volunteer to teach lower level students math from a more holistic standpoint.
Regardless of who you are, the message remains the same. Change starts with you, and it is vital to our education system if we want to develop youth that loves math, school, and learning.