All of our lives – everyone’s lives – are limited by freedoms and necessities. By this, what we mean to say is that there are things that we are free to do, and other things that we have to do. All that we do, whether out of freedom or necessity, is done within the limit of time. We can’t do everything that we want to do; that is a simple matter of temporal economics. Even the greatest over-achievers are bound by the time that they have to master those things that they can do. We must, for example, eat and sleep, and doing these things takes from the time that we have to do the things that we are free to – or want to – do. There are only so many hours in a day! So these limitations of freedom and necessity are the only real excuses that we have not to do things. In theory I have the freedom to go off and join the French Foreign Legion (and sometimes I do think about it), but this freedom stands in conflict with my responsibilities right here. For one, I think that I am now too old for leaping into the Legion, and for two, I have bills to pay and people who need me here where I am.
In the world of teaching one of the more common things that I hear from people is that they cannot do something because they are not able. They don’t have the brain for that sort of thing. It’s another language to them. What they don’t know is that these are invalid excuses. Invariably these people have the time and resources available to them – so they have the required freedom to learn. With the exception of people with learning difficulties, we all have pretty much the same mental capabilities – so the brain excuse doesn’t work either. As for language, well, language is one of those learned behaviours that are innate to the human species. So if you are human, and you don’t have a learning difficulty, then language – even a new language – shouldn’t be a problem to you. Maths is one of those other languages, and it is the one which is most often believed to be impossible to learn. You can see where I am going with this. No, maths – like all other languages – is natural to us. It is quite simply the simplified process of describing the physical world around us in numbers. Our greatest difficulty is not the language but our fear. Say that you can’t do it, and you definitely can’t. That is all that stands in the way.