In 1957 America got a wake-up call regarding its educational system. Russia made it to outer space first, with the launch of its Sputnik satellite. And thus in 1958 the US government launched the National Defense Education Act. This act provided hundreds of millions of dollars to beef up science and math education. A revolution in the way these subjects were taught was underway, including the introduction of much more multi-media equipment and materials… including motion pictures.
Interest in this revolution wasn’t just in the governmental sector—for instance, the need inspired Walt Disney to explore the possibilities of Disney Studios creating short educational animated films on math and science subjects which could be used in the schools. One result of this was the 1959 short film Donald in Mathmagic Land. It debuted in theaters that year, and later was featured in the first episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on TV in 1961. From then to now, it has been used in schools and even colleges across the country to spark interest in mathematics. And why not? Donald’s exploits made mathematics seem fun, exciting, and even magical!
You can see the whole movie, in three segments, on Youtube.
Yes, Walt had me convinced in 1959 that Math Is Fun. Math Is Exciting. Math is Magical. That was before I took my first algebra class, and discovered Walt had lied to me. There was nothing fun or exciting about solving a page of equations. And later in geometry class, there was nothing magical about figuring out the areas of a page full of varying shapes.
So I have a confession to make. I hated math in high school. Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word. Perhaps “found it a boring waste of time” might be more accurate. Not that I avoided it. Nor did I have Math Phobia like many do. I took two years of algebra and two years of geometry, and got A’s in all the classes. I took in all the facts and concepts and churned them back out for exams … and then forgot every bit of it the day after school let out for the year. Don’t ask me what a quadratic equation is, or how to factor polynomials, or anything of the kind. I know the terms, but frankly don’t remember what they mean.
When I stared at pages and pages of this stuff in a text book to do homework, my eyes crossed and then glazed over. I came out of the fog only long enough to commit the details to my temporary memory banks. And I’m suspicious this view of math is often genetically passed on to the next generation. I tried to never let on to my daughter Ramona just how purposeless I thought most of the math one learns in high school is, other than for people going into careers that actually do NEED advanced mathematical understanding. But she ended up just like me, with her eyes glazing over when looking at pages full of numerals and operational symbols. She took some algebra in high school, and got A’s, but like me, she promptly forgot it all the day school let out for the year.
Ramona got an associate’s degree back in the 1990s, but it didn’t require any math classes. So conveniently, neither of us has had to solve a quadratic equation or factor a polynomial in over 25 years.
And then, at age 40, Ramona decided to go back to college to finish a bachelor’s degree. Majoring in Business Administration. A field rife with numbers and equations.
Her first classes in night school have been in topics like public speaking, so she’s been able to tune out for a few months the inevitability of the number crunch that was coming. But now it’s time to pay the piper. This week she started college level accounting, after taking a couple of online tutorials on beginning accounting principles. When she opened her new textbook and began working on her first assignment for the class, her eyes glazed over. She vaguely recognized terms like “double-entry bookkeeping.” But in the tutorials, she’d never had to actually DO any double-entry bookkeeping exercises. It’s one thing to memorize and spit back out dry definitions. It’s quite another to actually see the principles behind the definitions in action.
So yesterday she explained to me that she felt like she was afloat in a sea of numbers, paddling furiously just to try to keep her head above water. She was attempting to do homework for her class tonight. One exercise in the second chapter of the book that particularly stumped her was the little chart below.
There was no previous example in the chapter of this sort of thing. There was no “story” to go with this problem! How was she supposed to have a clue what the numbers next to “a through h” were all about? Never having had any accounting myself, I was unable to be any help.
And then suddenly, as she stared numbly at the numbers, for some reason she saw a glimmer of light. Call it intuition. Call it mathmagic. Call it perhaps even inspiration from God (she’d been praying for HELP to get through this class!) But whatever it was, suddenly she began seeing relationships between them she’d not noticed before. Any place there was a number in the left column of a section, that same number showed up elsewhere in a right column of another section. And it dawned on her she just needed to look at the thing as a puzzle. Puzzles are fun. Puzzles are cool. They aren’t dry math. They are MathMagic.
Instead of feeling that waves were almost about to drown her, she suddenly felt a wave of relief. What if she approached the whole course this way—what if it is ALL just a series of puzzles to be solved?
And then she had an even more amazing thought … what if “Life is like Double-Entry Bookkeeping”? What if the principles she was learning weren’t just applicable to dollars and cents, but to every aspect of life? In fact, what if her whole college education wasn’t just isolated intellectual exercises with limited applications, but could be mined for wisdom?
And therein lies a metaphor we came up with as we discussed double-entry bookkeeping.
What struck Ramona the most in her introduction to double-entry was the fact that if you enter a figure in one ledger of your accounting system, the system will not work correctly unless you enter an equal amount somewhere else to “balance” it. And you must continually do this balancing act over and over throughout each day, and every day of the year when you are actively in business. When it comes time to give an accounting to the government of your finances, you will be in a mess if you haven’t constantly kept your balance.
While discussing this, we began thinking of the “balance” in all aspects of our lives. Consider the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” When Jack grows up, a corollary might be worded, “All work and no play makes Jack an unbalanced guy.”
I’ve had to face the fact that much of the time my own life isn’t very balanced, in all sorts of areas. For instance, I had just been complaining to Ramona that sometimes I feel pretty gloomy because I am convinced that, as part of my ministry, I must continually deal with gloomy subjects. In addition to this fairly cheerful blog, I have recently started two other blogs that are related to some areas of my research expertise—false prophecy, and the doctrine of an everburning Hell. There’s just no way to make those topics cheerful! This means that I expend a significant part of many days immersed in gloom. You might say that by the end of the day I’ve entered a large amount of gloominess into one line on a ledger of how I focus my time and energy. And this leaves me emotionally unbalanced some of the time, leading even perhaps to depression. Obviously, this is not what God wants for me. It is one thing to be serious about life. It’s quite another to be depressed by it.
To counteract this kind of imbalance, Ramona suggested we create our own imaginary version of a type of “double-entry system.” We would have imaginary ledgers for subjects such as family interaction, emotional investments, time allocation, and so on. In our system, IF you enter a negative in one line of a ledger, you need to make an equal entry in a positive side of that ledger, so that you will always stay “in balance.” If I have an imaginary emotional ledger, and enter a significant amount of unavoidable gloom into one side, I should find a way during the day to make an equal entry of joy and other positive emotions into the other.
Another example, for parents of young children, might be making a big investment of time on most days trying to control their behavior with negative input—criticism, lectures, withdrawal of privileges, frowning, grumpiness. If that is the sum total of your interaction with them for the day, your relationship with them is going to end up incredibly unbalanced over time! So why not try looking at your day with them as a double-entry system? For every frown, find a reason to smile at them later that day. For every lecture, find something to praise them about later that day. For every necessary withdrawal of privileges, find a positive promise of good things to come.
In my own case, I’m planning on a way to balance the gloom of some of the writing I must do by starting cheerful writing projects. And to make sure that the cheer overshadows the gloom, I’ll try whenever possible to work on a cheerful project as the last efforts of the day before bedtime. In the coming weeks, watch for a new Blog I will be titling “BrightStarr: (More Than) A Few of My Favorite Things.”
So … what projects might you start with an eye to bringing more balance to your Double-Entry Life?
(If too much gloom is unbalancing your life too, and you can’t figure out ways to change that, you might find my video seminar “SurThrival Guide to the 21st Century” helpful.)