If you are not one of the many individuals who disliked math or science during your teenage years, you probably know someone who did. “I hate math” or “I hate science” is a common complaint heard by most high school math and science teachers. Why do many teens have such negative opinions of math and science?
Math and science are rational subjects, based on logic and reason. They have definite rules to follow and unchanging facts to memorize. They leave little room for self-expression. In a culture caught-up in feeling and emotion, and at a time in most people’s lives when they are seeking an outlet for their individuality, math and science are seen as rigid and uncompromising. And they are.
But students need to understand being rigid and uncompromising is not bad, even if they do find it boring. It’s just the way the world works. Logic and reason lead to certain conclusions, and no amount of sensitivity or feeling will change those conclusions.
If a car strikes a tree, certain laws of nature will come into play more than likely resulting in significant damage to anyone in the car. If the damage is severe enough, someone may die. This may cause feelings of sadness, but it doesn’t change the outcome. Similarly, someone suffering from a terminal illness may illicit feelings of pity, but those feelings are not a cure.
Understanding math and science are necessary to engage the world as it is, rather than how you wish it was. With this culture’s insatiable appetite for instant gratification and the expectation of a solution to every problem and an answer for every need, this is a difficult pill to swallow. Teens, who tend to be filled with Utopian dreams of remaking the world, find it unpalatable.
Suggestions for solving the problem have been made. Some recommend teaching math and science using the everyday experiences of teens. At the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, teens are into music and any form of technological social networking. Understanding the production, recording and transmission of sound and the operation of cell phones and the internet provide substantial opportunities to address topics in math and science. But like generations of teens before them, who were more interested in where a car could take them than in how it worked, most of today’s teenagers are unlikely to be inspired by the technical details of their favorite pastimes.
So for many teens, math and science just do not relate to where they are in their lives or to the culture they have come to know. While they embrace the gifts math and science bring, they do not care to know the source of those gifts. Math and science are alien to their world.
Another explanation for why so many teens dislike math and science is they are hard. Logic and reason are hard for some individuals; they require work and exercise of the brain. In a culture grown accustomed to easy solutions, increased leisure and constant convenience, the mere thought of having to think hard can prove too challenging for some young minds.
Math and science deal with abstract concepts. Understanding the structure of an atom in order to understand the nature of chemical reactions and the physical properties of materials takes effort. You cannot just pick-up and examine an atom. Grasping the concept a letter can represent any number in an algebraic formula boggles the mind of most adolescents and not a few adults. Science’s strong reliance on math as taught in most schools in America intertwines these two knotty subjects, entangling and ensnaring many teenagers; thus insuring their dislike of both subjects.
So the interconnection between math and science, their abstract and difficult concepts, and their disconnect to the lives of American teenagers all contribute to the dislike of many teens to these two subjects. Only a change in culture and a change in teaching methods at an earlier age – relying on exercises of the brain – could improve the situation. And in fact, teens having just this sort of background are often those found to have an affinity with math and science.