Why Math? How we Kill our Dreams
As a fifth grader, I realized I had become fascinated by pictures of houses and buildings. A photo book of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings enchanted me. I was in Europe then, so American literature was hard to come by, but I scavenged "Popular Mechanics" and saw floor plans. You could design buildings by drawing their guts! Wow!! I could sit and draw floor plans at my little desk for hours on end. My obsession was so evident to my parents that my 13th birthday gift was a drafting table.
Back in the US, I made my way downtown Washington DC riding a series of busses to find drafting paper, a day-long adventure that resulted in purchasing a long scroll of paper instead of sheets. It was translucent and had a bit of a slick surface, which made my pencil drawings smear. I didn't realize that I needed to use a pen. I also didn't understand that the purpose of translucence was to allow the layering of floor plans to retain the same building shell but change the interior walls. My passion had met my ignorance... and my dream of architecture stalled. I would never finish using that roll of paper.
But that wasn't the death knell for my dream. As I arrived in high school, my patchwork academic career from moving around and my own limitations as a student collided with algebra. At this point, I was told that if I wanted to be an architect, I had to be good at math. I struggled with Algebra; tutors, extra credit, and several well-meaning teachers couldn't overcome the sense that I was throwing myself at a wall that I couldn't overcome. That, more than anything made my dream seem like a lot more work than it was worth. At 14, these are the decisions we make. It cast me astray into a world where I drifted without a compass. It wasn't long before I was out of school, living in a boarding house, and washing dishes in Augusta, Maine.
I see kids struggle with education like this. My own children both had their mother's brilliant math mind. My youngest confessed to her "Mom, I could just do equations all night!" My oldest was exposed to Chicago math and building your own logarithms to solve math equations in elementary school. But when he got to high school, he was chastised for not following the standard equations and received no credit when he didn't "show his work" for arriving at the right answer. This resonated with me. If I had been allowed to create a workaround for the math, such as building logarithms, perhaps it would have ended differently!
Ironically, I ended up in finance as a career and spent many hours teaching people the various logarithms involved in solving for x, monthly payments, yield computations, and regulatory calculations. Maybe I could have overcome the math.
A dream is precious. For me, it meant I was doing work without even realizing it. It could have propelled my life. It embodies the idea of the spiritual "finding your calling." It needs encouragement and support; once the sapling is dead, there is no bringing it back. So today I look around me at young people and try to see their passion and think of ways I can help them advance it.
My wife, an executive banker, has often speculated on her next career: "I want to help kids like (our sons) - brilliant but misunderstood. Maybe a school." I agree. I feel like kids shouldn't see themselves as victims of education; school is something to be endured. "We should be consumers of education," as my father, Dan Morgan, says. We choose red, green or blue, as it suits us. Hamburgers, chicken, or vegetables. Chevy, BMW, or Toyota. Why not let us define our education in a timeline of our lives, not as a standard certificate that some valuable people will naturally fail to achieve.