Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Space and Math: Both Daunting Frontiers

I was saddened to learn over the weekend of Neil Armstrong's death.  The legendary American astronaut took his fateful steps upon our moon's surface nearly a decade before I was born.  This may explain why, during the first several years of my life, I believed him to be the slightly less amazing brother of Stretch.  Once I reached school age, however, Neil Armstrong was a hero in my mind, even if his arms couldn't be pulled between myself and my brothers to cover the expanse of our basement.

In fact, Neil Armstrong was to me, as a child, what many children need to get through their schoolwork: inspiration.

Self described as a "nerdy engineer," Neil Armstrong was a role model.  His life and accomplishments were goals I kept in mind when faced with challenging lessons.  I didn't know if I would ever have an opportunity to walk on the moon.  If lucky enough to be faced with the opportunity, I realized I might very well shake my head, hold on to the nearest fixed object and loudly protest, "I'm not going out there!"  Nevertheless, the embodiment of hard work, dedication and persistent study habits lived for me in Neil Armstrong and during the tougher moments of my education I often thought to myself, "If I am ever going to do something amazing and groundbreaking like that I had better learn this s***."

Whether it be the direct result of the inspiration of Mr. Armstrong, fear of disappointing my parents, plain old luck or, most likely, a combination of those, I did well in school.  I haven't done anything particularly amazing or groundbreaking (yet) but I certainly think that my studies were not in vain.  I feel I use my education on a daily basis, though few would recognize it, and I want to encourage my sons to work as hard as I did in school, if not harder.

The first few days of their new school year having passed, I see already that my sons need a real world example of where their hard work might lead.  As they struggle to begin and/or perfect their times tables they protest extra practice and would give up if the option were presented to them.  In fact they already show a great deal of dedication and persistence toward getting the option of giving up to be made available.

Over the coming weeks as math drills abound and many a tear of frustration will no doubt be shed (by me and maybe even my sons), I plan to tell them more about Neil Armstrong.  With the unprecedented speed at which technology is progressing, they may very well have the opportunity to achieve something amazing as he did.  Perhaps one or both of them (Pioneer astronaut brothers? Be still, my heart.) will be featured in historic footage much like the nerdy engineer was so many years ago.

But this time, the backdrop may be a rusty red instead of gray.

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