Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Logic, the PSATs, and Opportunity

Today in Geometry, we delved into the study of Symbolic Logic and one of my inquiring students asked why we study Logic if we will never use it.  Using what teachers refer to as a 'Teachable Moment,' I spoke about a liberal arts education and the value of learning how to prove something to be true, step by step.  But I have been thinking further on this all day, and I want to add something to my argument.  First of all, we study Logic to develop what we call Habits of Mind.  I truly believe that it is always worthwhile to learn something that teaches us to discipline our thinking, and to impose some order on the chaos that is in our brains.  I have done this as an adult (and do so continually), and find the process both intellectually and personally rewarding - that moment when something becomes more clear because I have worked at it, and then I own it.  A small personal challenge met, a victory all my own.  And the more that I do this, the more I challenge myself and work at learning new things, or clearing up old misconceptions, the better I get at it, and the more I grow.  If you think learning stops once you graduate high school, or college, you are wrong - you can be a lifelong learner if you choose. 

Tomorrow morning the sophomores and juniors will take the PSATs.  Right now, I am sitting with my daughter who is a junior in high school, going over some practice questions, and she is stressing and complaining. "Why do I have to do this?  Why study?  Why cram?  What good will it do?  I'm stressed enough as it is."  I agree.  The night before the exam is not the time to prepare. You can prepare for tests like the PSAT and the SAT, but with time and effort, and you can improve your scores.  Are the tests stressful?  Definitely.  What do they mean about you as a person?  Probably not much.  BUT they can be the key to the opportunity, and for this reason, it is important to pay attention to them.

Everyone knows getting accepted to college is challenging and competitive.  And once you are accepted, going to college is expensive, even if you go to a public institution like SUNY or CUNY.    ANYTHING you can do to improve your application or resume, or make yourself look just a little better might be the thing that earns you notice, admission to the school of your dreams, acceptance to a travel program or internship, or scholarship money.  So while college may seem very far away, and the PSAT may not seem to be important, remember that we don't always know how significant something is until after it is over.  Another reason to do the best you can do, as often as you can do it.

So get a good night's sleep (no chatting/Facebooking/texting until 2 am!), eat a good breakfast, and don't forget your pencils tomorrow.

One last thing:  you are not a test score.  This may seem to contradict everything I just said, but realizing that your exam scores are but one facet of the total package that is YOU may put things perspective.  So try your best, but remember there is A LOT more to you than a number.  I know that, and I hope you do too.  

Good luck, Geometers and Living Mathematicians!