In a recent discussion with a group of graduate and undergraduate students in mathematics, we came to the following conclusions about how to respond to those who tell you “I hate math”, which can seem like a real conversation-stopper if you do math all day 😉
1) Keep in mind that people probably don’t hate math– They hate the tests they did poorly on and the algebra homework they had to do in high school. So you might – gasp! – agree with them that you weren’t that keen on high school math either but that there is more than that. Then you can elaborate.
2) Try to tell them about some cool math without using words like “theorem”, “algorithm”, “differential equation”, etc…. Make a Mobius Strip and cut it in half! Or ask them to “appreciate” math for what is does even if they don’t like doing it—point out the role of mathematics in something like the movie industry (avoid talking about finance).
3) Ask them to think about the strength of the word they are using, and whether they really do actually “hate” math? Did they have a bad experience in a math class? Do they have any idea what mathematicians DO?
4) Ask them what they do all day, and then quickly say “Oh I HATE that!” Ok, just kidding!
5) Make an analogy: Tell them that the math they learned in school is related to higher mathematics in the same way that grammar is related to great literature.
6) Speak about your love of mathematics and how it relates PHILOSOPHICALLY to other aspects of your life.
7) Say “Don’t be a hater!” Then have a laugh and change the subject or see #4.
Please add more ideas! And if you were at our discussion, and I left out something we said, please add it back in!