Ashlynn Lawston – Life Without Math

Before I knew how to spell my name, I was learning how to use negative numbers and line up six digits to practice long addition and subtraction. I found sixes and sevens far more entertaining to work with than the letters in my name or the words on the pages of children’s books. My love for numbers was no random coincidence; my older brother had a gift for math that one of his teacher’s cultivated into an unwavering passion for anything involving numbers. Every day he spent with this teacher allowed this passion to grow until it was so overwhelming he had to share it with someone, and that someone happened to be me. This teacher unearthed hidden potential in both of us that has encouraged us to view math as a key to unlock the world around us. Before I started kindergarten, he would bring home math games and problems from school and show them to me so I could practice with numbers too. His teacher’s enthusiasm for math was so contagious it reached me before I ever met her.

Eventually it was my turn to enter the classroom and become a student of the teacher that opened my brother’s mind to the wonders of the math world. Her name was Ms. Mortazavi and she was in charge of the gifted math program at my elementary school. I had never met her before I walked into her class as a bright eyed seven-year-old, but I was already eager to start taking classes in the gifted program. She greeted each student that walked in with a “Bonjour!” and beaming smile. With her thick French accent, heavy set frame, warm embraces, and anecdotal stories of her past, Ms. Mortazavi was like my crazy French grandmother who doubled as a math genius. Her contagious enthusiasm made me want to sit in the front row and absorb every word that came out of her mouth. She taught my gifted math class from second to sixth grade and completely changed the way I viewed math. I grew more enthralled with math with every year I spent with her and began to realize that even as a little girl with bows in her hair and horses on her shirt, I was going to have a lasting interest in math.

While most kids in her class were equally enthusiastic, there was one particular boy who struggled to understand the importance of math. His lack of interest eventually lead to overconfidence and disruptive behavior in class. Ms. Mortazavi was never frustrated by this, instead, she saw it as an opportunity to teach the entire class an important lesson. After he had an outburst in class because he felt math was unimportant and boring, my teacher just smiled. She looked at him and said, “If math is so useless why don't you find me something in this world that doesn't use math.” He looked up, obviously surprised by her response, yet he didn't have an answer. Ms. Mortazavi continued, “in fact, why doesn't everyone try to help him out and find a task or job in this world that does not require math.” It sounded easy at the time, I mean there were so many professions and careers that seemed to never even touch math. I had no idea this assignment would change my view of the world.

As I got home that night, I began thinking about a job without math. I thought about being a fashion designer and how all you do is match colors and fabrics together. Then I realized fashion designers have to measure their clothes and use addition and subtraction in their work. Next I thought about being a pilot. They just steer a wheel and listen to directions, there couldn't be any math in that. I told my mom about my idea and she reminded me that they need to know their speed, the wind speed, the amount of gas they have, and many other calculations. I kept trying to think of jobs that don't use math, only to come up short every time. When we discussed our findings in class, everyone had the same trouble I did, proving Ms. Mortazavi’s point: math is everywhere. No matter where I end up or what I end up studying, I know there will be math involved.

Her assignment was designed to put an unruly student back in his place, but it also gave each one of her students a new respect for math. Every corner and niche of this world has math hidden in its core, and without Ms. Mortazavi I never would have realized that. She inspired me to fearlessly approach any problem I encounter with the same tenacity I approached the problems on my fifth grade homework assignments. Her impact on my young and malleable mind reached far beyond the walls of my elementary school too. With college quickly approaching, I plan to study kinesiology which deals with the physics of body movement. This will allow me to use my love of math to actually make a positive difference in people’s health and overall wellbeing. Now, as the Math Club president at my school, I challenged the other members to the same task Ms. Mortazavi put me up to not so long ago and was excited to see the same results. Not one of my high school’s best and brightest students could find an area of work that avoided math.

Ashlynn Lawston