I wish I had studied maths

I stopped studying maths in Year 7. Before that I’d made a bit of an effort but in my first year of high school (in New South Wales high school starts in Year 7) I downed tools. I was bored, annoyed, and couldn’t see the point so I quit. Technically I kept going to maths class—it was compulsory until the end of Year 10—but I failed each year and was never made to repeat. I didn’t learn anything new after Year 6.

At the time I thought it was excellent that I could get away with it. In class I read novels under the desk. I never studied and finished my maths exams quicker than anyone else cause I guessed all the answers. Thus giving me more time to read novels.

Now I regret it. My regret is very very very big. Because now I don’t have the underpinnings to understand even the most basic mathematics and science. (I also stopped studying science very early.) Writing the Magic or Madness trilogy was a nightmare. It’s very difficult to write a character who is a mathematical prodigy when you yourself are a mathematical moron.

My current regret, however, is fuelled by the Rethinking Basketball blog. Quentin who writes it is a numbers boy. He has all sorts of fancy formulas and statistics to map the performances of different WNBA players and teams. Like how to take defence into account when figuring out who the Most Valuable Player should be.

I understand almost none of it and that fact fills me with despair. If I could go back in time I would tell the bored and cranky twelve-year-old me that maths would come in handy later on and I should really pay attention to the nice man. (My Year 7 maths teacher was a sweetie, who did not deserve me as a student.)

But plenty of people—including my parents—were telling me that at the time and I ignored them. I probably would have ignored the adult me as well. Sigh.

So it’s now more than a little bit ironic that I am in the position of telling twelve year olds that they should pay attention in maths class. But you really really should. Who knows when or where it will come in handy. But trust me, it will. Don’t be as stupid as I was.

This has been a public service announcement. You are most welcome.


  1. Ben Payne on #

    It’s so true. Of all the subjects you study at school, Maths is probbaly the hardest one to find an “in” with when you’re a teenager… it just seems utterly boring… it’s only when you’re older that you wish you had those skills… I did quite *well* at Maths at school but I still feel the same… and don’t get me started on how if-only-I’d-paid-more-attention in Science, Music, Art etc etc.

  2. lotti on #

    ugh. maths. but i am guessing that you are right…

  3. Kelly on #

    I worked very hard in math at high school, and now I’m taking second-level Calculus in college *gulp*, but I still feel like there are magnitudes of math that I absolutely cannot comprehend. I can force myself to pass the class and understand enough to get by, but I am not the kind of “math personality” that can just innately understand the underlying principles, like some of my friends can. Those people are lucky, lucky freaks of nature.

  4. Brent on #

    Math is the language of science and thus, pretty important. Business doesn’t require more than arithmetic, so there seems to be a bias against advanced maths. I was a math major in college and even I eventually dropped it for Physics and Computer Science. When I got beyond math that was needed for quantum physics I started wondering what the point was.

    However, sports as statistics drives me crazy. Granted I’m not a fan of professional sports, but the focus on various statistics makes them even more insane in my mind. The only number that I find significant is the player’s salary, and that’s one of the reasons I’m not a fan. =)

    (Yes, I realize the WNBA is NOT an overpayed entertainment commodity designed to sell bear and athletic shoes like most leagues).

  5. El on #

    Elizabeth Bear is learning math now. She didn’t “get” it when in school, but is understanding it these days. There’s hope!

  6. HypotheticalDystopia on #

    I am now motivated to finish my AP Calculus homework. (And AP Physics even though it’s considered a science.)

  7. Heather Harper on #

    Me, too! Math was my nemisis and I chose a university that didn’t require a math credit to obtain a Theater degree.

    Not so wise. My fourth grader is a whiz and completes his work in less time than it takes me to check his answers. I get a headache just looking at numbers. I blame it on the discalculia.

  8. Dave H. on #

    I love math and statistics, which is helping me figure out the WNBA awards stuff. I’m one of the voters, you see, so I have to get it right!

  9. Candy on #

    So the fact that Reason is a (magical) math genius must be some kind of wishful thinking …

    My teenage kids who all struggle with maths love math genius characters. why is that?

  10. Serafina Zane on #

    Even when in math class i think about how I should actually try sometimes. And yet…algebra. *shiver* I do have a pretty good basic understanding though, and usually manage to pull a nice B- to C average.

  11. Lauren on #

    I think part of the problem is that schools teach the nuts and bolts of both math and science without ever touching on the beautiful underpinning of both, which is abstract reasoning. I didn’t fall in love with math or science until I grasped what the scientific method was, namely an impressive system of creating and testing hypotheses about reality. I think most kids would be better served if their math and science teachers spent some time explaining to them what math and science really are.

  12. Haddy-la on #

    i love math (well in a way i makes my brain extremly pleased) im in geometry and im only in 8th grade

  13. Liset on #

    Lauren: YES!

    I truly believe i learn more outside of the classroom. I feel sad for any kid who never finds a special person showing them how cool learning is.

  14. Kirsty on #

    It’s not too late. When it comes to learning arithmetic, it seems adults have more need of numbers than teenagers. Apparently learning maths when you’re on the brink of decrepitude is a great way of staving off dementia. I’m saving up my maths homework for my sixtieth birthday.


  15. caitlin on #

    I didn’t fully appreciate math until I read Asimov. I spent many a math class writing stories with the math text propped up in front of my notebook.

  16. janet on #

    It’s never too late. Beginning this year I picked up the threads of my math education after more than 25 years. This fall I’ll be taking my second semester of calculus. And you know what? It’s a blast.

  17. Mahek on #

    I hate maths. I wish I never had to take it. I’ve been doing it since Year 2 and I have to continue it to Year 13. I feel sorry for me!

  18. andrea on #

    Okay, I’m just really really really good at math. So I get to pass math AND read books under my desk! Actually, when I finish my math homework during class (half an hour before class actually ends) don’t even have to hide my book under my desk! Because the teacher just understands that I get the math and that I really shouldn’t even have to take it because I haven’t learned something new in math class since…well, since grade five. Other than that, I’ve just gotten it and learned it outside of school in my free time. That’s how much I love math. So now I’m in grade nine and I have to put up with the fact that I am still in math because there is no advanced placement math in my school for another two years. Which explains why I want to switch schools next year. Just so that I can learn math instead of relearn math. I just really want to LEARN something in math. Because…I’m just good at math and there’s no advanced placement math at my school. And that sucks. So I go around talking math-speek which nobody understands. Is it seriously my fault that I know what the square root of 97969 is without thinking? It’s 313, just in case you’re curious. Yeah…so I get to read during math, but I really would rather be doing actual math.

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