It has often been said that sports don’t build character, but rather they reveal it. The same is true for math and critical thinking.
The most abused and overused statement with regards to math, and one that is completely wrong, is that math teaches critical thinking. It is really this premise that has created such animosity for the subject. People who are experts in things other than solving these math riddles have, for years, been made to feel humiliated and judged in their failed attempts at mastering them. The creation of “dumb groups” and “extra help” classes just further insult those who aren’t blessed with our so sought after critical thinking skills.
We made the evolutionary jump in understanding to have eliminated the old practice of picking on the weak in P.E. We have shunned the old understanding that putting a small kid with asthma in a football line up with a bunch of alpha males would be “good for him.” We need to make that realization with math as well.
Math class has simply become a time for those with sharp critical thinking skills to show off and is really a time for those with less skill to get their faces “smeared in it.” The whole process is condescending and, if you ask any person accomplished in anything other than math whether or not math class sharpened their skills or their disdain for the whole process, they will certainly confirm my thesis.
The false premise needs to stop now. Math doesn’t build critical thinking skills but rather reveals them. Let’s stop the old practice of picking on the weak and the public humiliation of those that are less good at it. We don’t pick captains in P.E. anymore and watch them single out the weak, so why do we continue to do it in math?
Ryan Teves is the author of "In Defense of the American Teen."