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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
Are You Good at Math? 
7th-Feb-2007 10:40 am
Usually a misleading question.

But then we came to a question: Why is it, if you want to go into programming, pedestrian ( or parental ) wisdom holds: “Are you good at math.”

This, parents, friends, teachers, I want to warn you away from asking. The question is not “are you good at math” but do you like symbolic systems, creating them, imagining them, adhering and bending them? That’s the question.

Good programmers are kids who memorize the armor charts to Dungeons and Dragons. Good programmers like to corollate data on baseball cards, they like to organize baseball cards. I’ve seen kids read chess books, or play Magic or play Yu-Gi-Oh, know the Dewy Decimal system, it’s all the same thing: breathing life into internal rules processing machines in your brain, and then using physical ( versus digital ) objects as the inputs to your automata.

So why do kids get asked “but are you good at math”.

Math is a convenient, albeit misleading, question, it’s a forced symbolic system that kids are forced to learn. To this extent, it can be used as a good measure of “will you be a good programmer”. Further, and a child has no way of knowing this, this lazy question implies that “liking math” and “liking the pedagogical approach used by the school board and as practiced by your teacher” are the same. They are wholly different and a child has no way of knowing this.

Read the whole thing.
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