Saturday, September 8, 2012

People and Numbers

As a mathematician, I have numbers on my mind pretty often.  Even so, I find it interesting that in today's world, people are often assigned and identified by numbers.  Social security numbers, patient numbers, telephone numbers, employee numbers, bank account seems every company wants to give us a unique number identification, because on a macrolevel, it's easier to manipulate and analyze numbers rather than letters.  E.g. we owe employee number 7 $52.28, to be deposited in bank account number 4, and we know it's #7's account because it matches his social security number.  I know I would fall into this trap of thinking of people as numbers at the carwash.  It was very easy to treat every customer interaction as another iteration of the same conversation.  "Hello, customer number (previous customer # +1).  You want that wash?  Great, and have a nice day!" (Repeat until end of shift)

Or when I'm running, I can fall into the dangerous habit of running by the numbers (mile splits or distance) rather than how I feel.  I've caught myself being disappointed I couldn't hold a certain pace for some distance before realizing that numbers are not why I run, but emotions are.  I decided to write about this, however, because of what I heard at my little bro's back to school night.  The new principal was talking to all these parents about how excited she was to work at this school, and how everyone should glad to be in this school system.  So, you know, typical please-don't-desert-us-for-private-schools stuff.  That's a whole other thing that I won't get into though.

She also talked about how she planned to improve the school in her term.  Most of this talk was focused on increasing the percentage of students who pass our annual standardized test.  And this is the part that made me a little angry.  Like I said, I understand this particular tendency, but that doesn't mean I like to see it.  I feel like she lost sight of the purpose of schools, which is to educate students.  I like to think of that as individual students, not just increasing a percentage or other metric.

One of the responsibilities of a good person is to see other people as, well, people.  I've recently started tutoring at IPFW, and the biggest thing the director of the tutoring service pushed on us tutors is to get our tutees' stories.  That is, connect with them on a more personal level than just someone we talked to to make our hourly wage.  I feel like this applies every part of our lives.  Don't talk about improving your school with a lot of numbers, because it makes me think that's how you see your students, as numbers.  Don't think about your performance at a job or hobby based on the number of hours you put into it, or the number of miles you've run.  Remember that we humans are an emotional being.  Appeal to that emotion and connect to each other (and ourselves) on a personal level.  It's not a question I like to ask myself, but a good question to ask is "How do I (or you) feel?"  Have I learned from this class?  Did I enjoy being outside on a beautiful day running?  Numbers have their place, don't get me wrong.  Nothing summarizes better than numbers, but don't let numbers sit in between you and other people.  How do ya'll feel today?

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