When I began homeschooling, I of course knew that math was an unavoidable subject. I had some trepidation as my own relationship with math was less than delightful. Surely as a child I at first found numbers fun. There was a certain sense of excitement and gratification in putting bigger sums together and solving increasingly difficult problems. Somewhere along the early years though, a certain disenchantment developed. Perhaps it was the difficulty and perseverance that subject demanded, perhaps it was the tedium and monotony of unimaginative drill and practice, perhaps it was the realization that others caught on rapidly and with ease while I lacked natural intuition. At any rate, though I remember desiring to do well and wanting to like the subject at the beginning of each new school year, over the years math became only a necessary obligation to endure, a frustrating ordeal to muddle through for a grade. I had no desire to go beyond the minimum requirement—ever. The idea of beauty or wonder was never conveyed, or I missed it if it was.
Nevertheless, despite my insecurities, I tackled teaching my children bravely. I endeavored not to impart my distaste for math to them. Along the way, many missing concepts fell into place and I found myself relaxing a bit. Eventually, my oldest children surpassed my level of understanding and sailed beyond my stunted knowledge.
But, I’m still in the thick of teaching my youngest, still learning. What I’m learning most, however, has less to do with computation than it does with character.
The development of our children’s character is of utmost concern to parents. We buy books about character training, provide books for our children to impart it, instill habits of behavior, and pray they will internalize godliness. Consider math in regard to character. What can instruct in truthfulness, accuracy, diligence, promptness, speedy execution, confidence, patience, self-control, and fortitude like this subject? Mathematics, Mason inspires, is a “mountainous land” and mountain climbing builds character—toughness, endurance, strength, and the exhilaration of achievement. Perhaps its most practical character outcome is the humility it produces as the farther we climb and the more we can see, we constantly confront our smallnesss, our limitations, in relation to its infinity.
This is all good. How can I then hate to teach the subject? It’s not about what it produces in my child’s character. It is what it reveals about mine that I hate. Sure, it’s exciting to introduce a new concept with concrete objects and watch my children discover principles that carry them on to grasp abstract ideas with ease and agility. Any weak character can get enthusiastic about that. No, it’s the fact that my children are persons who, like me, lose heart when the climbing is arduous, become frustrated easily when the road seems endless, complain when the task takes time, lose patience when answers are wrong, and give in to the temptation to quit when purpose is not understood. These are the problems in math that I can’t solve simply. Like my students, I am tempted to tears and tantrums. I am the one who must humbly confess my limitations—limited ability to encourage, inspire, be creative, not to mention show kindness, patience, gentleness, and faith. All too often I find myself sighing with exasperation, irritated at their agonizing dullness and repeated errors, struggling to find a fresh way to look at the same concept—again, and again.
I hate math because I hate sin and math shows me with crystal clarity just how sinful I am. I do not usually come to this lesson with gratitude for it as a gift of God. I do not value my child as a person of infinite possibility as well as a fallen nature. Instead of calling on God for insight—it is after all His truth, his area of expertise—I am tempted to despair. Math lessons are more a contest of endurance rather than a time of delight. I don’t like how my attitude hurts the precious relationship with my child. I face my selfish desire for success instead of patient, gentle encouragement. I long for math to be fruitful, but do not like God’s method of using math as a tool to produce the fruit of the Spirit in me.
Who is slow to learn the lessons? Who resists instruction? Who wants to give up? The very traits my child exhibits are the very ones I show my Heavenly Father. Rather than look to him for light and wisdom, I stubbornly try to solve my teaching problems my own way. Who forgets the lessons learned? Me.
I must hate math not because it is difficult, or because teaching it is difficult, but because I am ungrateful for problems and a Father who has the solutions. I must hate it because it requires faith and trust about the unknown. I must hate it because pride on one side of the equasion cannot balance humility, gratitude, and patient trust to living within the laws of mathematics. Like all problems in life, I am still learning what it is to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to show this by loving my neighbor as myself.
For the love of reading,