Often the reply is, “Because there is only one right answer.”
And I respond, “Why is that a good thing?”
Having only one right answer means there’s no room for creativity, no room for expressing your own ideas, no room for “good, better and best.” And it also means that any other answer is WRONG.
Is getting the right answer all that matters? If so, I blame the school system, which emphasizes tests over creativity and learning.
I prefer subjects that have many right answers—that have room for growth. Give me a good essay question over a math equation any day.
In all my years of asking people why they like math, I HAVE gotten a few good answers. One woman said math is like a puzzle to be solved. I get that. In fact, the few “mathy” things I like are logic puzzles and the game Mastermind. (But I hate chess.) My favorite game, Scrabble, has some math components to it. In fact, math people make the best Scrabble players. (NOTE: While I’m a good Scrabble player, I will never win a tournament.)
The best answer came from a math professor who teaches at a small college in South Dakota. He visited our contra dance group, and he described how contra dancing is actually very mathematical. During a particularly intricate dance, he smiled and said, “This is neat.” He explained that he was planning on giving his students an option: take the final or write a contra dance. I liked that.
When I asked him why he liked math, he answered with two words: “It’s beautiful.”
That’s an answer I can accept. Math is not beautiful to me. I find much more beauty in a well-written poem, a creative painting or a plaintive ballad. But I can accept that math is beautiful to him.