[Quick preface: this is a blanket statement that addresses the system as a whole. I have had plenty of individual teachers who went above and beyond to educate me in the most spectacular and inspiring way possible. It is because of them that I am the curious and ever-learning individual that I am, and I am forever grateful to have been graced by their instruction].
Solve: x^2 + 3x – 4 = 0
Some of us look at this and say, "give me a pen," while some of us look at it and say, "oh yeah, that thing." But there's another group of people. It's a group that I'll bet most people fall into.
They're the group that says, "what the fuck is this?" Or something like that. The point is, there are herds of people who don't know, or can't remember a single thing about how to solve this equation (the answer for which is x= -4, 1, by the way). Here's the kicker: it's not hard.
Yeah, that's right. Math isn't hard. If you can solve for 10 + 12 = x, then you can solve for x up above. The reason why math seems so hard for people is because math is a subject that requires diligent and consistent learning. This is something that just doesn't click for many people. Would you like to know why? It's because math is easy.
Let's start from square one: elementary mathematics. 1 + 1 = x. Check. Most of us probably don't even have to think about that one.
Okay, 10 + 10 = x. Check. It's a step up from the previous problem, but it's still pretty rudimentary and intuitive to understand.
Fine. 153 + 64 = x. Wow, alright. So maybe some of us that aren't half-calculator need to think about this one for a few seconds...
seven... carry the one... okay, x = 217.
Good! That was a bit of a challenge. You understand addition. You must understand subtraction, right?
1 - 1.
10 - 10.
153 - 64.
Okay, great. Remember, there's a such thing as "negative numbers," too.
5 x 5 = x.
10 x 3 = x.
43 x 18 = x.
Well. Some of those took us a little while, but that's okay. Multiples aren't easy to just intuit.
10 / 2 = x.
40 / 5 = x.
83 / 26 = x.
Remainders? Okay, so that's a new concept, right? It's fine; that's like dealing with money: 1 dollar divided by 7 quarters is 1 with a remainder of .75. Manageable.
Let's graduate again. Allow me to introduce the Order of Operations: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction.
Do these things in this order at each point in each equation. Ready? Go.
(5 - 10) + 6(20 - 2) - (18 / 2) = x.
Did you get 94? Did you even bother to do the equation?
If you answered "yes" to the former question: good job! It probably didn't come as quick as "1 + 1," did it? But I'll bet you used the concept of "x + x" at some point in time.
If you answered "no" to the latter question: you have found the root of the problem with America's education system.
For those of us who looked at the question, thought: yeah, I can do that, so why would I bother to actually do it? Welcome to what I like to call "academic complacency." Sure. We have the basic skills to solve for x there. Do we want to put in the effort to solve something we know we can solve? Probably not. So we won't do it. Maybe in grade school, you looked in the back of your book to get the answers for the homework (they were always there in math books) and just decided to copy them onto your worksheet, instead of actually solving the problem and doing the work (by the way, this is the reason math teachers ask kids to show their work in math assignments).
This is where the fuck up begins to rear its ugly head.
Let's graduate again. Solve for x:
x2 - 16 = 0.
Fuck. For some of us, this is probably easy to just understand that x = 8. For others, we get it now that it's mentioned. But how about:
(x2 - 8) + 2(5^2) - 1x = 50. Solve for x.
The answer is 8. Did you follow? At this point, most of us who can solve it will probably need a calculator, or at least a scratch paper to keep track of all the variables. For those of us who can't, it's because you stopped doing the work at (5 - 10) + 6(20 - 2) - (18 / 2) = x.
You got complacent at just knowing how to do the problem in the last step that the next step was pretty much a foreign language to you. "When the hell did the alphabet find its way into mathematical equations?" you might ask.
So, the American school system pushes us along again—maybe passing us with a C or D+, just to get us into the next grade so the school can still get its funding from the government. Whatever. We're kids. We don't care about learning. I mean, ACTUALLY learning. We just care about getting that grade so it can push us along to the next class, where we can stay with all of our friends.
From here on, it's a spiral of continued confusion and unanswered problems. Pre-algebra. Geometry. Algebra. Algebra 2. All of the sudden, we're getting words like "hypotenuse," and "cosine," and "Pythagorus." And we're left in the dust. But the funny thing is: math still isn't hard.
The beautiful thing about math is that it's like a puzzle: there's ALWAYS a solution. It might be convoluted and make you jump through a hundred hoops to get to the solution, but the solution is there. Always. But if you don't remember how to jump in the first place (or never even bothered to learn from the start), how can you be expected to be coordinated enough to jump through a hoop?
That's math. That's most subjects in Academia—but it's especially apparent in math. Think of never learning how to form a sentence, and then being asked to write a 20-page essay about the entire works of William Shakespeare, cited in MLA format, with a cover page, and a works cited page at the end.
But that's effectively what happens. Without the desire to actively learn, kids will just go through the motions and get the mark to pass the class until they eventually don't. American public education stops being about the desire to learn when we exit kindergarten. True learning is being taught the virtue of curiosity. It's about exploring. A lot of times, it's about being creative—and we all know that the public school system is structurally designed so that it discourages creativity. You can't wear this. You can't do this. You can't play with that. Stop doodling in class. This is how your notes should look. This is how you answer this; no you can't answer it that way—it has to be written like this.
It's mechanical. It's automated. It's boring. And at the end of its mass-production come out shiny machinated drones who have little to no desire to learn anything new. That's why kids fail. Because education is more concerned with GPA than it is about being fascinated with the subjects you're being taught. When did "what did you learn at school today, Johnny?" become "why do you have a B- in math this semester?!"
Well, it's because Johnny lost interest in learning. It's because Johnny never learned how to use a semi-colon. It's because Johnny forgot PEMDAS.
So how can Johnny possibly understand WHY x = -4, 1.