As far as elementary school arithmetic went, I was pretty good. It was all pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Once I got to high school things changed, quickly and for the worse. Arithmetic morphed into mathematics and it was as if I was mathlexic or otherwise impaired. Teacher after teacher tried to instill quadratic equations and arcane formulas into me, and I’d plead with them to tell me what the point was. What’s the meaning of these clusters of numbers and greek letters and squiggles I’d ask and they’d cuff me on the head and hiss at me to just memorize the equations. For me, I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t make any sense of what they were going on about.
Eventually I scraped through with the minimum requirements to graduate from high school and quickly confirmed my suspicions that one could get along just fine in the real world without ever coming into contact with mathematics. Arithmetic came in handy, but nothing fancy seemed to be needed.
Some years went by and I found myself at university nearing completion of an undergraduate degree. There were some bothersome mandatory courses I needed, a science that turned out to be a really fun apocalyptic vision of disaster with lots of movies but I struggled to find something in the Mathematics Department. Eventually I lucked into the perfect course, the History of Mathematics. We didn’t have to do any math at all it turned out, we just learned the answers to all those questions I had been asking back in high school, like what the heck is a quadratic equation good for and who invented anyway? It was really a great course and I have always since thought there should be a high school version.
I have never felt any inclination to do anything at all mathematically but at least now I understand its usefulness, if not for me directly than certainly indirectly all over the place. Wherever something has been engineered, someone or other was puzzling out all sorts of weird computations during its development. The late Lister Sinclair hosted several radio shows on the CBC Radio one of which was Ideas. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explore arcane mathematical theories with the leading academics of the day and I enjoyed picking up esoteric mathematical trivia.