It was the beginning of my Grade 10 year. A decision taken just a few months prior had quite literally ended in tears, as I contemplated dropping Mathematics for Math Lit. Although I would not have been here had I made an informed decision in the first place, getting out of the mess was easier said than done.
That is, thanks to the stigma around taking Math Lit. In most circles, there appears to be a widespread dissing of Math Lit in favour of Mathematics. On more occasions than one, I heard from the people around me that ‘Math Lit is for babies’. Each time I heard this, I felt more and more compelled to take Mathematics.
That was supposedly what brave people did. In hindsight, perhaps I was too brave. But my initial choice was compelled more by societal expectations and peer pressure than any audacious spirit. Mathematics was never my strong subject – and I knew it. Throughout the previous years and even today, words amused me far greater than numbers ever could. Even so, I caved in to those expectations and was to suffer the consequences at least until I made a mature decision.
After initially selecting Mathematics, the reality quickly set in during the first weeks of Grade 10. It didn’t take me long to realise none of what the teacher was supposedly ‘teaching’ us made any sense as hard as I tried to focus (insert Math Lady meme). ‘It’s tough, but Math Lit really is for sissies,’ they said. After staring at random formulas (that may as well have been Greek to me), I collapsed to the floor and cried. I felt useless. I felt like a good-for-nothing. All because I was too scared to break a stigma and make the right choice for myself.
Aside from the unfair mockery cast towards Math Lit students, another reason that had influenced my choice was the warnings – from these same people, and others – that taking Math Lit would drastically reduce my undergraduate options later on. Although I had known what I wanted to study (it remains the same, two years later), I opted to be on the ‘safe side’.
The very next day, I had my mother contact the school and request the change to Math Lit. I wish I could say the switch was a difficult choice to make, but that would most certainly be an exaggeration considering that it shouldn’t have been that way. Nobody should be burdened by the stigma attached to Math Lit. Especially since it is a recognised subject.
Even after making my choice, I dared not to tell any of my friends simply because I feared being ostracised from the group (a tad bit dramatic, right?!). But that was a genuine fear. In fact, I had left it up to speculation right until the moment I decided writing this article would benefit others in a similar position.
For Grade 10 pupils questioning their choice of Mathematics, do your research to see how a switch might affect your educational journey. It’s not too late and, after all, there really is no use breaking your head and undergoing self-immolation if Math Lit would do just fine for your career choice later. Grade 9 pupils, you have the advantage of a forewarning to be able to make an informed choice in your subject selection.
A word for parents: Please do not compel your child to take Mathematics simply because that is seen as the more ‘noble’ option. Diligently weigh their strengths and weaknesses, factor in their interests and help them make a decision accordingly. It’s always better to excel in something they enjoy than to suffer in something they do not.
To society: There may be glory in taking Mathematics on account of the serious effort it requires, but do not consider Math Lit a shameful subject. No, really. Though it should involve much deliberation, choosing Math Lit should not have to involve considering how others would receive the news. I learnt that the hard way.