Engineering Involves Math.

Earlier this week, in the course of about 25 minutes, Dylan created one of the most beautiful, complex, fun marvels I’ve ever seen. It was a kind of marble roller coaster game that involved gambling, guessing and statistics.

The marble track started high on a table and led across the room through obstacles, ending on the floor in the kitchen. The track itself was awesome, but it’s what he did with the track that was so awesome: he made it into an awesome game.

The end of the track had nine stations where the marble might land at the end of its run. He marked each landing area with playing cards and deemed each area worth a specific amount. Then he set up a betting area on the table, so that people could guess which station might catch the marble – and win points.

Shortly before this, Dylan said he’s “not sure anymore” if he wants to go into engineering.

Engineering involves math. Dylan was a whiz at math in fifth and sixth grade. His grades were so high, in fact, that he skipped a class and went directly into algebra class in seventh grade.

And Dylan hates algebra. He sees no real-world reason for learning it, and I must agree.

Thanks to some poor teaching, years of neglect in preparing kids for algebraic thinking, and a teacher who so humiliated Dylan in class that she may as well have asked him to wear a dunce cap – my son is now ready to give up on his career as an engineer.

Music is easier, he says, so he thinks he’ll do that.

The statistics on this phenomenon are horrific. In spite of efforts to the contrary, the number of graduates in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) continue to steadily decline. Students with awesome intellect and creative abilities are refusing to follow their dreams of designing, building and inventing – because math is so abstract and mind-numbingly dull in school, they assume it will continue in real life.

There’s no connection between algebra, for example, and anything in life. And at least for Dylan, if there’s no greater meaning in something, it becomes an unnecessary burden – for him, and for the world.

He does want to take calculus, though. “It looks really cool,” he says.

He’s already taking physics. The way he talks about it, the concepts in physics are just common sense.

I can’t even imagine thinking the way he thinks. It hurts my head to imagine thinking the way he thinks. I simply can’t.

We need his brain in the world. We need him to create incredible things. But I can’t convince him that engineering will allow him the opportunity to do this. Nor can I guarantee that, because of his specific issues, he’ll be able to complete the work – and turn it in – that’s required of an engineering student.

Worse yet, I don’t know what he can do with the gift that’s been given to him. He’s been building spectacular games since he was barely old enough to talk. He’s been taking common household items and turning them into awesome strategy challenges for ten years.

He takes nothing and turns it into something for his entertainment all the time.

So how do I explain that to the college admissions office?

And how do I explain to Dylan that his brilliance is not common sense, and that it’s really worth using for the greater good?

I guess I don’t do either. Because at this point, it’s up to Dylan.

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