© Abramson Math, 2022

How to learn to stop being afraid of mathematics?

Leonid Katz

Yakov Abramson’s student, prize-winner and winner of the math olympiads, and a student at the HSE University explains how he stopped being afraid of math; why he thinks that mathematical culture is more important than a genetic predisposition for mathematics; and how Yakov Abramson helped him not only to make sense of mathematics but also to love it.

Everyone who achieved something in their life can name someone besides their parents and grandparents who became their Teacher with a capital T. For many of his students, Yakov Abramson is such a Teacher.

Leonid Katz, one of his former students and now a student at the HSE University, despite having grown up in a “mathematical” family (his grandfather is a professor of mathematics), doesn’t think that predisposition for mathematics is a genetic gift.

Leonid Katz, one of his former students and now a student at the HSE University, despite having grown up in a “mathematical” family (his grandfather is a professor of mathematics), doesn’t think that predisposition for mathematics is a genetic gift.

Leonid Katz

— I think that the general mathematical culture, the atmosphere that surrounded me since early childhood played the most important role,” he admits, “I remember that my mother had taught me to solve some simple problems and equations even before I went to school. I wasn’t that interested in it, but I learned to solve them without any negativity.

But here is the question: what does it mean — “mathematical culture”? Often parents who are looking for a special math school or a tutor for their child cannot pay in a shop without using a calculator.

From the cradle, we learn about the general human culture — it is considered embarrassing to not know who created the “Mona Lisa”, the “Moonlight Sonata”, or the “War and Peace”. But who has invented numbers? Or fractions? Or has solved Fermat's Last Theorem? Or Poincaré conjecture? The only exception is that the majority of people are familiar with the Pythagorean theorem. That’s pretty much the whole of our “mathematical culture”. Of course, some people can solve long algebraic equations simply for their amusement, but they are rare.

In Leonid Katz’s family, the mathematical culture manifested itself not only in the fact that he was introduced to mathematics as a child. When his mother heard about an unusual teacher, Abramson, she enrolled her son in the fifth grade of the school where Yakov Abramson was teaching.

From the cradle, we learn about the general human culture — it is considered embarrassing to not know who created the “Mona Lisa”, the “Moonlight Sonata”, or the “War and Peace”. But who has invented numbers? Or fractions? Or has solved Fermat's Last Theorem? Or Poincaré conjecture? The only exception is that the majority of people are familiar with the Pythagorean theorem. That’s pretty much the whole of our “mathematical culture”. Of course, some people can solve long algebraic equations simply for their amusement, but they are rare.

In Leonid Katz’s family, the mathematical culture manifested itself not only in the fact that he was introduced to mathematics as a child. When his mother heard about an unusual teacher, Abramson, she enrolled her son in the fifth grade of the school where Yakov Abramson was teaching.

Leonid Katz

— At first, I was scared. Not that I was a timid child, but I thought that everyone around me understood everything, and I was the only one who didn’t. It turned out later that many of the students felt the same way. Yakov Abramson gave us problems and pretended that we were totally able to solve them, that it was a piece of cake. Now I understand that there was a whole philosophy behind it: if you tell the kids that what they do is too difficult for their age, it could discourage them from solving the problem. My fear gradually went away, and I became interested.

According to Leonid math doesn’t only help develop logic, which is commonplace already, but also intuition. Based on your experience you have to find a new solution. And every time it should be a personal discovery.

Leonid Katz

— You cannot really call Yakov Abramson a strict teacher in the usual sense of this word,” notices Leonid, “there was no iron discipline and so on. There was a creative atmosphere in the classroom. Of course, it happened that he could give you an F (I remember I got an F once and was very upset). But even in these moments, Yakov Abramson didn’t humiliate a student, didn’t belittle them. The grade meant only that you failed at this moment, but you will definitely make it next time. His demands were high, but he was so into math that we didn’t notice this high bar.

When asked if Yakov Abramson had any favorites in the class, Leonid could not remember any. Abramson was objective and treated everyone equally.

Currently Leonid Katz is a second year student at the HSE University. He is still in contact with Yakov Abramson. Last fall, for example, he helped his former teacher to check the summer homework of his current students, because there were so many of them. Thus “school of Abramson” created a generational bridge.

Currently Leonid Katz is a second year student at the HSE University. He is still in contact with Yakov Abramson. Last fall, for example, he helped his former teacher to check the summer homework of his current students, because there were so many of them. Thus “school of Abramson” created a generational bridge.

Leonid Katz

— I was really glad to see him, and I felt slightly embarrassed that it had been such a long time. I realize now that to meet such a Teacher is great luck, and I am happy to be so lucky.

Whether we notice it or not, mathematics is all around us nowadays. For some, it is the jobs in the IT sector, for others, it is the electricity bills — numbers are everywhere, so we need to learn to deal with them. We have to cultivate analytical abilities, systemic and critical thinking — the quality of thinking. And for that, you need a Teacher, a person who loves mathematics and their students. Children would be lucky to find such a Teacher. For some of them, like Leonid, it will be Yakov Abramson.