kawuli (kawuli) wrote,

on learning things

1. In the third grade, math was all about timed multiplication tests. I kept failing – I couldn’t manage to memorize my multiplication tables, I had ways of getting to 7 x 8 = 56 but they took too long. I hated math, through third and fourth and fifth and most of sixth grade–and then we got to do some algebra, as a sort of sneak preview, and instead of memorizing “this is how you calculate the least common denominator” there were rules and logic and the fact that I still didn’t really have my multiplication tables memorized didn’t matter, because it wasn’t about that.

2. On the last day of seventh grade, our math teacher sent the boys out of the room, ostensibly to carry heavy boxes somewhere. “Hey!” we said, because we were strong too. But our teacher already knew that. He stood in the front of the room and said “A lot of girls stop liking math in high school. You’re going to hear that girls just aren’t good at math. You’re going to get told it’s not cool to like math. So right now I want to tell you: You’re all smart enough. You’re allowed to be good at math, you’re allowed to love it. All of you can be good at this.”

3. I went to Caltech. I hated programming, I was bad at it, the classes assumed you’d been coding for fun since you were twelve and I’d never done it before. I was never going to be able to write code, I decided. I just wasn’t good at it. And then, four years later, I started a Master’s degree in agronomy. I hate Excel. I need to find a better way to analyze data than the cookbook nonsense I was learning in class. I install R. I start using it, because the only way I’ve ever managed to learn anything is by diving in and trying not to drown. I start writing scripts. I’m not good at programming, I’m not an expert, but I can do it. It’s not magic.

4. I need python, for work–or maybe I don’t need it, maybe I could use R, but python is faster. I can learn this, and I do. I need new tools: I need remote sensing, I need SQL, I need open source when my licenses run out. I need new things, so I learn them. I poke my fingers into all kinds of different toy boxes. This is something I am good at: I’m allowed to say that. I’m allowed to be good at it. I’m allowed to love it.

I’m allowed for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that, way back in the beginning, Mr. Ropp took the time to say yes, you can do this.

(on Tumblr this was a response-reblog. The full thing is here, but I thought this bit might be interesting to some of my non-tumblr people)
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