In which Carrie brainstorms for a Language Acquisition Autobiography due next week…
When I was in high school I heard a teacher tell some of my classmates that “the only use for mathematics is for balancing your checkbook.” Hmm…
Now, I’m sure if I had then the current intellectual chutzpah I have now I would have asked this teacher what they meant. I would have listened closely to their reasoning, certainly literal not figurative, for such an astounding overview of the importance of math. My guess is that this “well-balanced checkbook” premise wouldn’t have gotten off the ground, especially if I had finally, after hours and hours of philosophical discourse, revealed to her, Nuh uh! Mathematics makes you a better kisser. Such would be the concluding proof of our conversation.
Sadly, I didn’t take math too seriously back then, and now it is one of the major political emphases of modern education. Mathematical literacy ranks as high as English proficiency, or at least some kind of ability to read, write, listen, think, and make meaning of a survival-inspired written and spoken symbolic language All of this has given much to consider regarding my own personal language acquisition, especially in light of other languages I have learned in my plus 12 years of schooling. Why is this important anyway? Shouldn’t we be focusing on, say, teaching our children the language of kindness, as a friend of mine suggests in his working notes on how to learn and practice kindness?
I was reminded of this quotable moment from my teacher when I noticed a complex mathematical proof of Problem 39 in my inbox this morning. It was sent to two literate “math people” and myself, a “literature people.” Presumably it was sent to me…who has no hope of understanding the proof on its own terms (weird symbols)…because the sender gathered that I’m fascinated by mysteries. But the mental tickle which mysteries provide are not without discomfort too. I wonder at how much I am missing when I survey my illiteracy. And this naturally brings me to the topic of justice.
In rare, isolated moments I have come across times when I could not communicate with speakers of other languages. Nobody died as a result. But I start to wonder what it would be like to live in a country where I couldn’t defend my rights as a human being, simply because my language skill was so low. I may be capable of intuiting that an action done on me isn’t fair…I might get a gut feeling that a person might be trying to exploit my lack of literacy…but I’d still feel pretty sad or upset by the actions of another taking advantage of my ignorance.
My Lifehacks friend often poses an interesting conjecture as to why those of us living today managed to be here. It puzzles me each time he brings it up but interests me nonetheless:
Men and women choose spouses/partners differently. Men choose for beauty in various forms. Women choose based on the kindness and caring which her potential mate exhibits. If females down through our ancestral history had not chosen mates founded on their mental make up involving their willingness to protect and give and have compassion for other members of his species, we would not be here today.
I’m still working out this Darwinian explanation, but I think what my friend is trying to say is that in order to survive, we need to be thoughtful of others. I’ll add that our chances increase with the ability to understand the way the world works in a multiplicity of language structures. Balancing my checkbook is a start. Understanding misinformed statistics by a potential leader of my country is another. To grasp that this universe runs on laws well above my instinct further improves my understanding. But grasping the meaning of Cantor’s claim that “some infinities are larger than other infinities” is just plain sexy.
So, I think what I mean in my imagined rebuttal to my former teacher’s claim is that literacy of all types help our survivability, our ability to kiss, and the outcome of that equation.
Further notes, literacy I have explored, but not mastered: geology, ceramics, botany ornithology, horse, philosophy, Japanese, German, Spanish, English, poetry, technology, linguistics, theater, science inquiry, pedagogy.