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When I was a camp counselor after my sophomore year of college, I had a standard response to kids who asked, “Do I have to?” Whether they were complaining about sweeping out the cabin or taking a hike, I’d look them in the eye, smile and say, “No. You *get* to!”

I wasn’t a teacher yet, but I had this instinct to spin complaints into commendations. Sometimes this worked. The hikes were a good time, and even sweeping sometimes ended in fits of laughter or song.

But the more I think about math and grownups, the more I think that this flip response doesn’t apply. I do think math is fun — well, some math. I love proofs, from the two-column geometry proofs that I did in high school to proving properties of our real number system. I also love doing some kinds of algebra, like solving systems of equations with two variables.

But I don’t love *all *math. Try as I might, probability still screws with my head. And I honestly and truly despise logarithms. (Those are to solve for *x*, when the variable is an exponent. More than likely, you haven’t seen logarithms in decades.)

The realization that math doesn’t have to be fun really hit home twice this past year. When I wrote my proposal for *Math for Grownups*, the publisher offered positive feedback, except for one thing. “Don’t focus on the fun of math,” my editor said. “Focus on the fact that we need it.” That was a real wake-up call for me. I couldn’t say to my readers, “You don’t *have* to do this math; you *get* to!”

And this spring, I also served as an instructional designer for two online, high school math courses, Algebra II and Probability and Statistics. This meant that I reviewed the lessons, looking carefully at the pedagogy and mathematics. I could tell when I loved the math. I was ready to work every day and genuinely didn’t want to stop until everything was finished. But when I hit a unit that was less engaging for me, I stalled. I looked for anything else I could be doing — laundry, cleaning out my email, visiting my favorite blogs.

I didn’t love all of the math I was doing. Why should I expect that of anyone else?

That’s why I say that math doesn’t have to be your BFF. It’s like making dinner every night. Some people can’t wait to get their hands into some fresh bread dough or chop up onions or heat up the grill. Others are satisfied with take-out. And then there are plenty of us who are very happy somewhere in the middle.

But we’ve all got to eat, whether we love cooking or not. And we’ve all got to do math. You don’t have to love it, but you can learn to tolerate it.

*What do you love or hate about math? Share your ideas in the comments section.*

Gina says

Do people not like math because they don’t feel like they’re good at it? Have you encountered many that have math confidence, but don’t like it?

Laura says

Well, like and love are two different things though, aren’t they? I have no scientific evidence to back up any of my opinions, but that never stopped me from sharing them, so here goes. My experience is that love and confidence go hand-in-hand. (In this case I’m not talking about romantic love; we all know how misguided that can be!) Here’s what I mean: it’s hard to like math, if you don’t feel confident in it. Lack of confidence often translates to frustration, right? Or at least out-right avoidance. It’s pretty darned difficult to like — or love — something that frustrates the hell out of you!

Take my hatred of logarithms. I know why I hate them, and it’s a pretty silly reason. The notation is just not intuitive for me. What does the subscript number mean? What about the number after

log? This silly, because how hard would it be to learn the notation? Not hard at all. But my frustration keeps me from being interested enough to take the time.And let’s face it — I don’t use logarithms, almost ever. (I did have to use them when I served as an instructional designer for an online Algebra II course this spring, but I just forced myself to look at each example uber-carefully, so I didn’t screw up.) If I needed logarithms on a regular basis, I might gain confidence in them. And I might even find out that I like them — but that last part has no guarantee.

But to answer your question, no I don’t think that people dislike math because they don’t have confidence in their skills. But I do think that people without confidence in their math abilities probably won’t like math. And I think people don’t

toleratemath, or care about improving their skills, because of some kind of math anxiety or low math esteem. If I can make another analogy: do you know anyone who is a good cook, but doesn’t like to cook? I’m guessing there are a few folks like that out there.Laura

Bon Crowder says

You are so right, Laura. Plus I think that once you are free to not love it, you’ll find the bits you do feel some affinity for and attach to those.

Me? I hate calculus. Boring, plug and chug work. I’m an algebraist – my love is in the stuff that really doesn’t matter.

And I love logs. Especially because I get to write “means” upside down on the board and sing Ren & Stimpy’s International Log Song in class!

(which means I need to do an article/video on my way of teaching logs, eh?)

Laura says

Sounds like I could benefit from your video about logs! Thanks for your comments, Bon.