Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Struggle with Math

We’ve heard it said that American kids today are sliding further and further behind in their math and science aptitudes and if education doesn’t turn things around real soon, we’ll find ourselves at the bottom of the global totem pole of developing nations.

That’s pretty heavy to take in at 6 o’clock in the morning, but something struck me recently that goes way beyond any global education race or debate.

Early on in my life I gravitated toward the Life Sciences. I don’t know why, but I do remember my dad fed me a consistent diet of Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and a myriad of other science related shows on PBS as far back as I can remember.

My dad was a pioneer in the use of video media in the Des Moines School District. Way back in the late 60’s I would hop in my dad’s VW Beetle and we’d drive over to Amos Hiatt Junior High in the dark of some week night. We’d meet and cajole with a black janitor as we headed up to his class room. My dad would set up this huge black and white monitor with a big set of rabbit ears antenna to grab the latest PBS series right out of the air. Then he’d plug in the big VTR machine. It had a weird smell like melted plastic and the recording media, 2 inch reel to reel video tape, would whir and jerk as he cued up the tape for the next show. It was a great introduction to the sciences, long before the Discovery Channel. And fun to be with my dad too.

Sometime in my elementary school years, I got an entire chemistry lab. Not just the chemistry set, but an entire little room designated as my lab, fully equipped with all the glassware and equipment one might need to create some basement pathogen or on the minimum, burn the house down with my Bunsen burner. I never said my folks were always wise.

Needless to say, the systematic acquisition of knowledge (one definition of science) has always been in my DNA, even though I struggled with the more traditional studious academic disciplines (ergo my less than perfect GPA). So the drive to seek knowledge and understanding, especially in areas that are germane to my life, is not hard for me.

Jesus said… know the truth and you’ll be set free. So seeking to know Him and experience all He has for me has never been difficult or something I’m at odds with. Maybe the science thing is what makes me love being a disciple of His.

But here’s the real kicker. In most, if not all of the sciences, to include Life Science, math plays a pretty significant role. And my dad never (that I can remember) sat me down with a Times Table and helped me learn the finer art and discipline of multiplication. Unlike his pioneering spirit with video media, he seemed to lack the same drive when it came to math and making sure I knew that kind of stuff.

By the time I reached college, I was really hurting. Not so much emotionally (that’s for other blog), but boy I struggled with the math courses required for being a Biology major and a Chemistry and Computer Science minor.

Here’s the link: Without the ability to do math fluently, one’s ability to “do” science properly comes to a screeching halt. Somewhere just past the golgi bodies and the pistils and the stamens. Basic science, like basic Christianity and discipleship, is about as far as a person can go… without math.

Jesus tested Peter’s mathematic prowess and willingness. He asked Peter if he knew what 7 x 70 equaled. Unfortunately Peter was just a simple fisherman, and multiplication as we know it had yet to come into its own. So we can cut Peter some slack, but to God, that equation is paramount and eternally significant.

Jesus told Peter that he was to forgive at least 490 times. But He really meant indefinitely. For you see, God calls us to forgive from our heart or else He cannot forgive us. So when it comes to math, our ability and willingness to multiply forgiveness toward another person is absolutely critical.

How’s your math these days?

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