Sunday, November 02, 2014

Opinion: When things just don’t add up

Sue Wighton, Brisbane freelance writer reports, "I’VE never been good at mathematics. Maths computation is for left-brainers and my brain definitely swings to the right."

Indeed, I have arithmetic anxiety. Seriously, this is a real phenomenon, characterised by a feeling of “tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with mathematics performance”.

 Divide \$163.75 by four? Are you kidding me? Photo: Courier Mail

A long-term study of more than 500 twins found genetic factors were the cause of 40 per cent of their differences in maths anxiety. So putting two and two together, I blame my parents.

Just reading this research makes me anxious. Statistics always send me into a maths funk. Five hundred twins. Is this five hundred sets of twins? So were there a thousand participants? Two times 500 – that’s a thousand, right? And 40 per cent of the differences – are they going to bring up that statistical significance, p-value thingy I struggled with at high school? Dear God. No. I need Ventolin and I need it now.

My memory of secondary school is patchy but I vividly remember late nights in the wee study Dad built on the end of our veranda at Geebung. I’d happily study the agriculture of the Great Plains of America ’til all hours. But maths? Forget it. I still have nightmares about exponential function and limits. I’m eternally ambivalent about equivalence and comprehensively confused about correlation coefficients.

Maybe it was the teacher. I don’t know where you are now, Mr Jones, but your superior attitude and insensitivity to my maths phobia wasn’t helpful. That and your high-slung polyester slacks and your personality bypass. Generally considered an A student, I always left Mr Jones’s class totally bewildered, my self-esteem in tatters.

I have maths blindness and deafness. The moment someone starts calculating in my vicinity, I tune out. At the restaurant I’m happy to throw a \$50 bill into the pot and hope for the best. Divide \$163.75 by four? Are you kidding me?

Then there were those stupid problems maths teachers insisted on bringing up.