I have never been particularly gifted at math and science. In fourth grade, I only got an S for satisfactory (instead of very good or excellent) on my multiplication tables and definitely couldn’t do the “Mad Minute” math worksheets as quickly as other kids could. Heck though, I was in all the advanced learning programs for reading and writing and could rip through a Wordmasters test like no one else. This isn’t me bragging about my elementary school academic prowess, but rather a long-winded way of saying that my mind has always been more oriented to language and literature than long division and logic. If you cut open my skull, I feel like the right side of my brain would be a nice, plump grape while the left side would look like a raisin.
Last night, my suitemate came in with her finished cell biology project that she had been working on for the entire semester. I looked at the poster, which gave detailed explanations of hypertension in cells and something called phosphorylation, and I could honestly not understand the majority of what it was talking about. Granted, I haven’t been taking a cell bio class all semester and while that may be the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the meaning, it dawned upon me that the things that we end up studying in college become so specialized and specific. I am a film and media studies major focusing on communications and a sociology minor. In other words, I have gotten really good at avoiding numbers like a plague. It’s not that I’m so bad at math, it’s that it takes so much more effort to get to a level where I am confident in my abilities, unlike my efforts in the humanities, so I prefer not to do it.
I think that this mindset that I, and surely others, have is problematic. If the point of a liberal arts education is to be able to get a well rounded education in all fields, I’m really not doing so great because I haven’t touched a math class in two years and the idea of coding terrifies me. It’s such a different world that I feel like if you’re not naturally disposed to the numerical and rational, there are limited options for those pesky math and natural science credits. I would be so interested in taking marine biology, but BIO-13 is a prerequisite. I have avoided the notorious pre-med ‘weed-out’ class in the name of my GPA but, in doing so, have closed the door to many curiosities. I think that the whole concept of intro classes being designed to be ‘weed-out’ classes deters many from even dipping their toe in.
I’m bummed that I’m going to have to use one of my credits taking Math of Social Choice because it’s the only math class here that is notable for non-math people. We are so focused on what we are good at that we don’t expand our interests beyond what is comfortable. And the thing is, while I can write this whole column about how I wish I could branch out, I know that I’m not going to because sticking to what you know is the safer option.