10 Sep 2014

My thirteen-year-old daughter Ellie was participating in a mock trial event, 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. 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. From his reaction, I assumed the sheriff would think that an art teacher ought not to be teaching government, literature and especially math! If we had had more time, I would have liked to explain homeschooling more fully, pointing out that teaching credentials and college degrees are not necessary for parents to produce well-educated students.

I have given this some thought since then, and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps more art teachers should teach math. I come to math class, or any class, knowing how to learn, and I learn with my children. I have come to believe that this is the most important thing we can teach our children: how to learn. When I teach math or any other subject that I’m not an expert in, I model how to learn.

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 many students dislike math 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 also instructs flowers and pinecones to grow following these complex patterns. He arranged things we cannot even see in complex and beautiful mathematical patterns, like the double helix of DNA. And He did not just place those 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 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 those who are 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 knows how to learn anything and is completely in awe of God.