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Hard Wired

It’s astonishing to me that an experienced teacher like Emanuel Jinich ’79 doesn’t know “why math is so difficult for students to learn” (Spring 2019).

Answer: Because students don’t always function the same way their teachers do. Some people’s brains are hard-wired for quantitative thinking and theoretical abstractions, while other people’s aren’t. My brain is hard-wired for words and pictures, sounds and tactile distinctions—but not formulas and symbols as they appear in traditional textbooks.

I got decent grades in high school math and science only because I have a photographic memory and could “see” the relevant pages in my mind when I had to take tests. When a quantitative problem is posed in words or images, or applied to some practical use, I’m fine. I have no trouble with the dimensions of something I’m sewing or constructing out of paper or wood, the ingredients in a recipe, or the cost of something I’m buying. In college biology, the lectures went over my head, but I passed because I loved dissecting specimens in the lab, feeling the different textures under my hands as I used the scalpel and other tools.

Later, I applied the same skills to filleting fish, deboning meat, and doing various kinds of household repairs. Just don’t ask me to calculate anything more complicated than the arithmetic needed to balance a checkbook or figure out who owes how much at a restaurant.

—JACQUELINE LAPIDUS ’62, Brighton, Mass.