Mathematics, which encompasses a vast array of concepts and branches from addition and geometry to prime numbers and calculus, can be learned by anyone, and anyone can excel in its study. Essentially the science of numbers and their relationships and operations, mathematics has been covered in a pall of confusion and strong opinions largely due to misinformation and poor educational theory.
Recently, however, educators in the West have begun to re-examine the virtues and strengths of a more Eastern approach. The increasing popularity of Singapore Math is proof enough of this trend, though there are plenty of similar programs being developed to help kids understand the principles of mathematics, not just memorize functions and their results.
It's not just a stereotype—kids from Asian countries and backgrounds do better at math than their Western counterparts. Observation has suggested this, comparison studies have supported it, and international tests have proven the case. The stereotype comes in when people suppose those students do well in math because there's some innate Asian math gene that helps them "get it."
In his fascinating book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell clarifies that misperception (along with many others). The reason Asian students do so well in math, he says, is that their cultural roots place such an overwhelming emphasis on the importance and value of hard work. It isn't that American kids are less mentally suited for mathematics; it's just that they are made to do less, not pushed as hard, trained to value leisure over labor.
There's another reason Asian students do so well in math: their approach to numbers is simple and intuitive and regular. Our Western system of counting, for instance, is frustratingly disjointed. One, two, three....eleven, twelve....fifteen....twenty-one, twenty-two, etc. The Chinese count this way: one, two, three....ten-one, ten-two, ten-three....two-ten-one, two-ten-two, two-ten-three, and so on.
For Christians, the push to understand the principles of mathematics is surely the correct approach. God's world demands our understanding—if we're going to take His command to have dominion over the Earth seriously, we must know and comprehend underlying principles, not just surface-level knowledge. This applies as much to mathematics as any other discipline, especially since numbers are such a fundamental element of so many things.
The study of math also reminds us that God is orderly (1 Cor. 14:33). Its principles are demonstrable because they were dictated by God Himself and are held in place by His sovereign hand. What we can't forget, however, is that the rules of mathematics don't bind God; He is orderly, but He created order, and not the other way around. Mathematical knowledge is useless if it is held in higher esteem than its Author.
As an educational bookstore, we offer plenty of math curriculum and resources. Math books remain among our most popular items, in fact, and even those who don't homeschool supplement their kids' school homework with extra math workbooks and drill. It's an important subject, especially in our modern era, and we encourage you to take it seriously and take as much time as necessary when presenting it to your children.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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