The Need to Express: Math, Language, and Hip-Hop

Posted on February 9, 2012 by


Whatever tool you use in front of people, be it the gift of spray-painting or rapping, the language of mathematics, they’re both modes of self-expression.

Expression to communicate something to someone (s).

For months, I’d been soul-searching probably way over-thinking my proposed thesis study of math students at the community college. At the heart of my study, I just realized I’m trying to figure out an answer to this question:  why is it so damn tough for people to learn math, particularly in the context of the United States?

The simple answer to that question?

Because people do not want to express themselves in it.

They do not want to express themselves, partly because they do not know how to.  They don’t know how to probably because they’d been been told over and over that they did not know how to, whether if it was an exam telling them that if they couldn’t figure out this number of questions by this certain time period, they would never really get it or a report card that gave them a grade that said they didn’t get it.  And so they never wanted to use this tool to express themselves because the way people taught them how to use it was used in a way simply imitated others and rote procedures without any thought or curiosity as to how or why.

I don’t think it’s like this when were expressing yourself through a rap.  I don’t think it’s like this when were learning how to express yourself in another language.  With expressing yourself through rap or even another language, you can string pieces of vocabulary right of a language and you can partially get things right.

If you’re rapping, you could have a few lines that rhyme, and the rest of the song sucks, but you’d still have a song.  If you’re speaking another language, you could have a few words you know, like a pronoun and a verb, and an object whose name you say in English, and you’d still have communication in that language.

However, if you’re speaking the language of math or specifically math equations, there are no partially correct questions.

In trying to learn how to express yourself in math notation, its a bit harder to get a feel.  You can get pieces of vocabulary right, but if you don’t get the answer, you fall into the incorrect category.  You’re not sure whether you got the vocab right, you applied the procedure wrong.

I theorize that there’s such a density of pieces of information contained within mathematical notation that requires concentration;  you can’t get pieces together one by one, you have to get a lot of different little pieces to get together and get them right, otherwise, everything is dismissed as wrong, and you usually don’t have an idea of where your errors begin.