My thirteen-year-old daughter is in Challenge B this year, and she is preparing for Mock Trial, so we took a field trip, along with several moms and teenagers, to visit a courthouse and watch a real trial. As we waited for the trial to begin, the sheriff talked with the students and moms. He was very enthusiastic about the justice system and was happy to answer any questions we asked. At one point, however, he turned to the moms and asked us if we had been teachers before we started homeschooling our children. (This did not feel like small talk anymore. It felt as though he were checking our qualifications.) I was grateful that my friend was quick with her reply that she had been a teacher; in fact, she had taught criminal justice at a university. The sheriff was, of course, completely satisfied that she was qualified to homeschool and they had plenty to talk about after that, so I did not have to give my answer.
I did not want to say that I had been an art teacher. (I had also been a writer, a graphic designer, and several other interesting things, but the question was about being a teacher. Additionally, I had been an art teacher in an art museum, not in a public school, so I figured this would make me appear to be even less qualified.) I assumed the sheriff would think that an art teacher ought not to be teaching government, literature, and, especially, math!
However, I have given this some thought, and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps more art teachers should teach math. I do have to read the lessons carefully, and sometimes I have to work an equation before I remember the rule. One day, I had to call my husband to ask him who wrote the order of operations and why it was established in that order and not another order. I used to have to use flash cards with the answers on them to drill the multiplication tables. (Do not worry; I know them quite well now.) So, I am not coming into math class with only art information in my head. I come to math class, or any class, knowing how to learn, and I learn with my children. It is great fun to learn something new together. I am excited when I get an answer right. I sometimes struggle with my student over a long equation, and then we both get really excited when one of us finds the solution. (My oldest son often experiences the joy of figuring out the solution before his teacher. Too bad the younger children do not have this experience as often, for I have developed a good memory.)
I am currently reading a beautiful book about math titled, Mathematics, Is God Silent? The author, James Nickel, just might like the idea that the art teacher is teaching math. He explains that the reason many students dislike math is because it is taught so abstractly that we do not see the relationship of math to creation. Math, he explains, is the language that describes and explains creation and helps us understand and know the Creator a bit better. As the art teacher, I can easily see this. The leaves on a branch either follow an alternating or opposite pattern. Flowers have radial symmetry. A five petal flower has the same structure as a pentagram. A sand dollar also reflects a pentagram. All animals, including humans, were created with symmetry, and, therefore, all will have an even number of legs.
I can show and explain to my students the golden rectangle and its spiral, and how the ratio of one side of the rectangle to its other side is the same ratio in a pinecone, a sunflower seed, and a nautilus shell. These elements found in creation beautifully demonstrate math concepts: pattern, symmetry, geometry, ratios. Once I start to see the math in creation, not only can I not deny the existence of the Creator, but I am astounded at His great wisdom. He not only invented these complicated math concepts; He instructs flowers and pinecones to grow following these complex patterns. He arranged things we cannot even see in complex and beautiful mathematical patterns (e.g., the double helix of DNA). He did not just arrange things in mathematical arrangements, He caused them to grow into those complex patterns. The pinecone grows in a ratio that I have trouble calculating. This does not mean the pinecone is smarter than I am. It means that God is smarter than I am. Way smarter. He has hidden complex mysteries in biology, chemistry, and physics, and when we learn math, really learn math, we can understand the complexities behind something that at a first glance seems simple. The movement of a planet across the sky, for example, demands an understanding of ellipses, time, distance, and relative motion.
I believe that human beings have only scratched the surface of the mathematics of creation. That is why we should study math. We need to know the language of math in order to discover, and further appreciate, more of the beauty, complexity, and greatness of God.
I never had a math teacher who showed me this. A homeschool mom did. Imagine that. God does not call the equipped to homeschool. He equips the called. Therefore, the question asked of us by so many, “Are you qualified?” is not really relevant. The question is, “Can God equip you to do this?” If you know anything about pinecones or sea shells, then you know that, yes, God is more than (>) capable of equipping me to teach math or art, or more importantly, to raise a child who is completely in awe of God.
(I hope you will come to a Classical Conversations Practicum this summer and learn more about math with homeschool parents, just as I did.)