The writer, Marvin Minsky, a “cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence”, says the problem is not in learning math but in the way we teach it.
Why do some children find Math hard to learn? I suspect that this is often caused by starting with the practice and drill of a bunch of skills called Arithmetic–and instead of promoting inventiveness, we focus on preventing mistakes. I suspect that this negative emphasis leads many children not only to dislike Arithmetic, but also later to become averse to everything else that smells of technology. It might even lead to a long-term distaste for the use of symbolic representations.
Minsky offers some excellent suggestions for improving the way we teach math, especially at the elementary level.
First among these is encouraging kids to experiment with concepts and processes instead of always expecting them to memorize and apply algorithms over and over (and over!).
At the same time we stigmatize the concept of “failure” by drilling into their heads the absolute need to right, each and every time.
There is a popular idea that, in order to understand something well, it is best to get things right from the start–because then you’ll never make any mistakes. We tend to think of knowledge in positive terms–and of experts as people who know exactly what to do. But one could argue that much of an expert’s competence stems from having learned to avoid the most common bugs. How much of what each person learns has this negative character? It would be hard for scientists to measure this, because a person’s knowledge about what not to do doesn’t overtly show in that individual’s behavior.
In the real world, people learn from their mistakes and build on their failures as well as their successes.
In school, especially in how we teach arithmetic, mistakes are not permitted. Everything is right or wrong. There is no other option.
It’s no wonder, by the time students arrive at high school, most pretty much hate the thought of anything called “math”.