A World Without Mathematics


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According to teachers for as long as any can remember, one cannot survive in this world without mathematics, yet thousands in the United States alone cannot grasp mathematics, cannot learn mathematics because of “Dyscalculia” (also called Dyscalcula). Dyscalculia is a term meaning "specific learning disability in mathematics." People who suffer with a poor memory for all things mathematical have many other symptoms and characteristics. Taken as a whole, these coexisting conditions comprise what is termed as "the dyscalculia syndrome."
Dyscalculia is an MLD (mathematics learning disability) that affects approximately ten percent of the US population, yet almost no one (shy of those diagnosed with the MLD) knows that it even exists. People who suffer from Dyscalculia have severe anxiety attacks, as well as short term memory loss associated with mathematics, numbers, rules, and retention. Other symptoms of Dyscalculia range from normal or accelerated language acquisition, poetic ability, good visual memory for the printed word, difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction, inability to keep track of time, and may be chronically late.
The diagnosis of such a MLD is a simple test that ranges from a few hours to as long as a day. It is, however, difficult to recognize because it appears similar to math anxiety, lack of studying, and just simple mistakes. Doctors believe that there are thousands in the world who have Dyscalculia, but go undiagnosed. The test is also very expensive, costing too much for the average person or college student to pay for (ranging from five hundred dollars into the thousand or so range).
As is typical in dyscalculia syndrome, students are usually gifted in most other academic areas. They may be in Honors classes, achieve excellent grades, and be tenacious learners. Math, however, confounds them, because it defies their learning history. They can read, understand, work the problems, but instead of remembering and mastering the material, it is mysteriously forgotten sometimes an hour later. To some, it seems like a lack of effort; to those with Dyscalculia it is a nightmare.
The typical response to this phenomenon is to try harder. Thus, students apply all of the strategies used for success in other classes to the mathematics task. But success is temporary. The student willingly exerts extraordinary effort and invests unprecedented amounts of time, yet success eludes her. At this point, the student becomes frustrated by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But she is further aggravated by the fact that she cannot identify and define the obstacles to her achievement.

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Because her reading comprehension is excellent, a thorough rereading of the mathematics text should provide sufficient clarification. But it does not.
Now the student seeks help from others. Encounters with peer helpers seem a waste of time. The student is unable to follow explanations out of context. The same opinion follows tutoring sessions as well as isolated encounters with the instructor. The student begins to tear up during these sessions, desperately aware that precious time is being expended without profit. She is falling further and further behind, and despondency begins to set in as the prospects for catching up become bleaker.
The student becomes anxious. This oddball math class stands at the gate of her goals, wielding its wicked sword. It threatens her entry to the world of an excellent grade point average, placement on the dean's list, academic honors, and college scholarships. It threatens to slam the door on her occupational dreams. It wields the potential to decapitate her aspirations to be the president, a doctor, an engineer, or a chemist. It dares her entry, chides her intelligence, and her every attempt to disarm it has been in vain. But she refuses to give up. After all, everything else has been so easy; surely there is a trick to be learned here, a study strategy, a new discipline. She knows she is very intelligent, and she refuses to be beaten by one class. So she dries her tears and attempts the class again, this time aware of the effort required and the limits of her memory. She is determined not to fall behind, but to do whatever it takes to be on top of the material.
Unfortunately, despite her lifelong difficulty in learning math concepts, no one has ever taken her aside and tested her for a specific learning disability in mathematics. Because she is so brilliant in everything else, her math difficulty is thought to be a transient fluke. Surely this smart girl will grow out of it. And it is believed that even if she does not, her far reaching academic talents will prevail, cushioning her from any lifelong effects of math failure. But they are seriously mistaken. Her lopsided academic achievement will preclude her from pursuing 50% of all career choices and areas of study. She will approach university study eyeing only programs and majors with minimum or nonexistent math requirements. As a result, she will be disqualified from highpaying technical fields where employment opportunities abound.
Her college dreams crushed, her thoughts of being a chemist nothing more than a nagging thought in the back of her skull, she sulks home to figure out what she can do without compromising her intelligence. She needs something that will show that a world exists without mathematics. She realizes that all teachers said a world without mathematics would not exist. It is here and now that she realizes not all teachers are right.



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