Expert Math Tutor
My Story

Letter Written to Friends Daughter
Audience: all

This isn't an essay and why am I putting an email exchange in the essays section of my website?

The essay section of my website is intended to contain content that is either educational or will help you assess who I am and what I have to offer.

The following is an email exchange I had with the daughter of one of my closest friends. I think it provides insight into my way of thinkning and also provides insight into the level at which I provide service to students. I always attempt to convey the same sentiment to my students as what is conveyed in this email exchange. The "take away" is hopefully the realization of how important solid math skills is to your future.

Hi Nicky, How are you? This is Mike - your dad's friend - the math tutor guy.

When I tutored you last week I became concerned with both your performance in the material we studied and something you said. I want to express those concerns here. This email is long and touches on different subjects. Please find it in your heart to make the time to read it in its entirety. After all it took me a lot longer to write than it will take you to read it!

You performed very poorly with the material we studied together. Your understanding of the concepts and principles involved is weak to say the least. I'm not saying this to be mean. I'm saying this because it is my honest observation of your current level of understanding of the material you're studying. The material is difficult to understand. I'll give you that. But that leads me to my second concern: You stated something along the lines of (paraphrasing): I know - I'm just not good at math. This I believe is just an excuse - an excuse born from the material being difficult to understand and you not wanting to work that hard. I don't believe (you're not good at math) that for a second and I'm going to tell you why.

The following is just off the top of my head. I'm not citing sources nor am I certain it is entirely correct.

Intelligence is comprised mainly of four components:

1) Smarts: This is something you are born with. It's you're innate, natural, God given ability. It may change slightly (better or worse) as the years go by but it's basically a constant throughout each individual's life.

2) Knowledge: This is the information you acquire as you go through life. Knowledge is fragmented. For me, I'm strong with Educational Mathematics. Your mom is strong with Real Estate. Your dad is strong with Computer Programming. I assume one of your current strengths is "Angry Birds". The point is that knowledge is acquired and everyone's knowledge base is different. On top of that there are different flavors of knowledge - examples are street knowledge and academic knowledge.

3) Intellect: This is an individual's ability to combine their smarts with their knowledge. Smart people, when they have the proper knowledge and desire, make efficient decisions to achieve a goal. Without knowledge smart people probably don't get as far in life as they could. People we wouldn't classify as smart are much more challenged in that they neither see the need for knowledge nor do they know how to apply what knowledge they have.

4) Wisdom: This has to do with an individual's experience. The more experience you have in life the better equipped you are to assess and understand different situations and make good decisions. Wisdom impacts all the above components of intelligence.

The word intelligence kind of wraps all these four categories into one word. Hence, we have IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

You have already demonstrated on at least two occasions since I've known you that you are smarter than I am. There's little doubt in my mind that this is true. I dont remember the specifics of what was said but I do remember thinking "WOW!" and making a mental note (at least twice - the second time confirms my initial suspicion) that you are a SMART little girl. It was profound when you think about the fact that I was in my mid 30's and you were less than 10 years old.

But I have FAR more knowledge, intellect, and wisdom than you! It's not even close. Your intellect may never surpass mine if you don't acquire knowledge.

As for wisdom - this is a difficult thing. Wisdom can't be taught. And the concept of wisdom is difficult to convey. But I think I have an analogy for you that may do the job;

First a preface: When your dad and I get together we talk about many things. We tell each other stories that we think each other will find interesting. Here's a story your dad told me about you.

Your dad used to take you surfing (I don't know if he still does). He was teaching you how to surf. I guess you guys were in the water and the swell was big enough that it had to be managed. Your dad would tell you where to go in order to navigate the waves without getting pummeled by the surf. But at some point you said to your dad that you knew what you were doing and he should just let you do it. He did as you wished and it wasn't long before you started to get pummeled by the surf. You paddled back over to your dad and started listening to his directions again.

This is an example of wisdom in two different ways: 1) your dad has the knowledge and wisdom of the surf necessary to make navigation decisions in the water to keep you both safe and not fighting the surf, and 2) you acquired the wisdom that the surf needs to be managed and that your dad has the knowledge and expertise to navigate the surf. So next time you guys go out to surf you'll already know to listen to your dad with regard to where to be as the waves come in.

Now I want to talk about you, your dad, wisdom, and intelligence. I'm kind of mixing things together here to some extent so I hope it's not too scattered.

Your dad is by far the most intelligent person I've ever met. Now he's never been recognized or identified as a prodigy or something like that so I guess there are plenty of people smarter and more intelligent than your dad. But your dad is the most well balanced (both emotionally and academically), modest, and fair person I've ever met. Sometimes I think he's cheaper than me (believe it or not). I know he's less generous than me and that's almost impossible. On the other hand your dad is very generous with his time - he bends over backwards to lend a helping hand to anyone whenever he identifies someone in need. He demonstrates care and compassion in everything he does. He takes special care with his family.

Your dad protects and insulates you from danger. He draws upon his wisdom to do this. Your dad does not protect or insulate you from making you own mistakes. You learn from your mistakes and he knows that. He may cringe at some of the decisions you make but he doesn't interfere unless he strongly believes your decision is detrimental to your future.

**Please read on - there will be a point but you have to read it all to understand the point**

Of the four components of intelligence the only one I have over your dad is wisdom. This is evidenced by me warning him about the effects of age and him saying, in effect, whatever. At around 30 we start to experience our bodies aging and I remember him saying I was right about something some years back. But the gap in wisdom narrows as time marches forward.

What I mean by gap in wisdom narrows as time marches forward can best be explained by a graph. Please open the attachment to see the graph now. Wisdom Graph The following explains parts of the graph.

This graph is actually flawed. One flaw is that not everyone's wisdom curve rises at the same rate. Another flaw is that not everyone has the same level for peak wisdom. Yet another flaw is that wisdom is a quality not a quantity. I'm sure there are many other flaws. Notice how as time marches forward - as we all move towards the right on the time axis, the gap between our level of wisdom narrows. Notice the wisdom curve is asymptotic to peak wisdom. Recall from math that asymptotes are lines that the curve approaches but never touches. We just used a mathematical concept, the graph, to help crystallize the concept of "the gap in wisdom narrows as time marches forward". If you know how to read graphs, the concept crystallizes in your head.

So this is an example of using math to convey an idea that could be argued isn't even really mathematical.

I hope you're getting the point. Learning math trains your mind in critical thinking. It trains your mind in the art of using logic and reasoning.

Right now your dad controls what you can do and what you can get. He controls this by virtue of controlling the money. If you want to make your own decisions about what you do and what you get, you're going to have to make your own money. When you exit school you'll be looking for a job. The job market is highly competitive. Whatever job you want you'll be competing against hundreds if not thousands of other people who want the same job. In order to compete you need to develop your intellect. You're already smart. You need knowledge. The knowledge that will be most helpful to you in your quest to do what you want in your lifetime is the knowledge you acquire in an academic setting. The key to excelling in most, if not all, subjects is having a command of mathematics.

I know it's hard. Don't use excuses to trick yourself into not putting forth the time and effort required for you to master the mathematics. Ten years from now you'll be out of college. You'll still have another 60 years to enjoy life. Spend that 60 years doing what you enjoy not what you have to do (are told to do by a man or a boss in a job you don't like). The key to being in a position to make a living doing what you enjoy is education. The key to excelling in education is understanding the language of mathematics.

It's by no means too late for you to catch up. But the train is leaving the station. It's not too late to run and catch the train before it gains speed and goes down the track leaving you behind.

I'll be there to help you every step of the way! And I mean that!

OK - back to fun and games!

Now go give your mom and dad a big hug and get your nose back in those books! :)


Her reply:

Hi Mike,

You don't need to introduce yourself, I've known you since I had all my baby teeth!

I'm not going to lie, when it comes to math, I have given up. I'm reaching a pivotal point in my life where things are starting to change, I'm questioning who I am, where I'm going, and what I want to do with myself. I think that lifew has snuck up on me quickly since all of my teachers are warning us that we will need to be applying to college in less than two years. And it's something that is really scaring me. I'm still kind of stuck in the flow while everyone else is charging forward so quickly. People told me that academically, high school would be harder, and it is- by a lot! However, everyone failed to also say that emotionally, it would suck too. But I know this is a pretty common story and myriad teenagers experience what I am everyday, but it's new to me. Anyway, my point being, I feel discouraged. I am used to being the top student and never having to work hard for a 4.0 GPA. I think that as math got harder, I got more and more stressed out and stopped trying less. It doesn't really make sense, but that's what I did. It's stupid and immature, I know this. But now that I'm on the brink of failing, a place I have never been before, I know that I need to pick it up next semester. At the risk of sounding cliche, you actually did give me a new way of looking at things, but I know you probably won't believe that. Thank you for the stories about my dad and I, they really made me happy. We rarely hang out together anymore and I enjoy remembering those kinds of things. My dad really is a unique person and although a lot of the times I resent him for limiting me so much, I respect him a lot. And actually, my strength or passion isn't angry birds (even though I have beat the game!), it is actually literature, reading, writing, and arts. I like doing things that can be debated, no definite answer, room for wiggle-room if you will. Things that have one answer- and nothing else, kind of make me nervous. But anyway, thank you for taking the time for the email. it's nice to know that you back me up and care about me. I am going to try harder and see if I can raise my grade back up.


My reply to her reply:

Hi Nicky,

AhHhHhHh! Don't give up! Really! Really! Really! DON'T GIVE UP!

I know/hope/think you're only saying that figuratively or NOT whole heartily. What you mean is you're willing to accept mediocre grades in math. May be you're saying this because you want to explore and rely on other areas where you believe you are stronger. This is definitely an area (your choice of what to focus on) where you need to make use of the wisdom of others.

I often say the cliche: A truly wise person knows how to make use of the wisdom of others.


We live a capitalistic society. Capitalists who are not law breakers prey on the weakness of others for their own monetary gain. You can see this in how our society conducts itself: People have massive debt and jobs are being relocated around the world to parts of the world where labor is cheap. Capitalists don't seem to care much about humanity. Honestly, I think CEO's of the largest corporations are sociopaths. Unless you're able to assess situations accurately and make good decisions you'll be taken advantage of just like so many others are day in and day out. Most people are slaves to the almighty dollar. They are in the rat race. They can't see the forest through the trees. It is sophisticated slavery. They hate their job but there's nothing or very little they can do to change it. They owe, they owe, they owe so of to work they go.

I think I'm getting a little scattered again but I'm running with it.

So regardless of what profession you choose there will be some capitalist working hard to figure out how to pay you little and get you to work very hard and a lot.

I'm going to add a bit right here - this block was not included in my email to Nicky. I re-read what I wrote and think I may be coming across as bashing capilatism. That's not my position - it's capitalism that has allowed us Americans to build a great nation. It's capitalism that allows me pursue being a math tutor rather than becoming a HS Math Instructor rather than going back to computer programming or the actuarial field. In theory a capitalist society coupled with our constitution allows anyone to identify a need and to fill that need by providing goods and/or services to meet that need.

But capitalism does have it's shortcomings.

The downside is that a marketing machine exists that has become expert in manipulating our behavior - we see commecials that are geared towards making us believe we need stuff we don't really need. We see advertisements that are misleading and geared towards getting us to sign a contract which includes monthly service charges. A couple of examples are: I see commecials telling me I might have people looking for me. I go to the website to check it out and sure enough the website says I have 10 people looking for me. All I have to do is sign up for their service to see who's looking for me. That may be a good service but the way it's marketed is to entice me to sign up. I haven't signed up but I'd bet signing up would obligate me to pay a monthly fee. I bet what I'd get is not in-line with what I had hoped for. And you may have to sign up for a multi-month or multi-year contract. To me that's taking advantage of peoples natural desire to feel wanted and important. Another example is these free credit reporting services. These services say "FREE". That's true - you can see your credit report as frequently as you want for free after you've signed a service agreement that includes a monthly or annual charge. And they use a marketing ploy that causes one to believe that knowing their credit score is somehow akin to taking control and fixing their credit. In reality paying money to see your credit score doesn't fix your credit. Fixing your credit entails buying less (understanding the difference between need and want) and budgeting - nobody can fix your credit but you. Spending money to see your credit score isn't a step in the direction of fixing your credit. In fact obligating yourself to a repeating charge hurts your ability to pay your bills and fix your credit - it takes money out of your pocket - money that could be used to pay bills and help fix your credit. It doesn't change your behavior of spending, it actually adds to the spend. That's a dis-service marketed as a service. And you actually can get your creidt report for free once a year at All these other credit reporting services bundle monitoring services and other things that just aren't necessary - they are just trying to separate you from your money. There are countless examples like these. There are diet pills (what you really need to lose weight is to change your habit of eating too much of the wrong stuff and not exercising enough), countless variations of exercise equipment (all you really need to exercise is a pair of dumbells and an appropriate pair of shoes - the dumbells aren't really even necessary).

Then we have the way large corporations conduct themselves. They offer discounts for the first three months of a 2 year contract. This entices people who may not be able to afford that service to sign up and possibly get themselves into financial trouble as they can't afford the service 3 months later but are contractually obligated to pay. Corporations also do things to cut costs at the expense of services provided or at the expense of jobs for people. They also shift the cost of doing business to their customers wherever possible. Some corporations want to charge their customers for customer service. They would all do that if they thought they could. Banks want to charge you to access your own money. The largest corporations will do anything to protect their market share - they may buy competitors just to put them out of business. They'll step on anyone and anything to protect their market share. Are you happy with your cable provider, cell phone provider, bank, insurance provider or have you had any difficulties with any of these? They don't seem to care but their marketing would suggest if you go with them you'll be happy with them forever. Corporations are expert in paying their employees as little as possible and getting as much out of them as possible. If they can't do that they'll move call centers off shore so they can take advantage of people around the world. And when one company does it, other competing companies must follow because if they don't, they won't be able to compete on price.

I also have to admit some employees don't provide as much service as they could or quality to the company they work for. They sit around and waste time. So there's a flip side to every coin.

Suffice it to say I'm a strong believer in taking personal responsibility and providing real service for my customers. Not just finding ways to separate people from their money. Look at Math book publishers. They have a new edition of their book every year. Math hasn't changed in hundreds of years. May be cutting edge math has evolved but educational math hasn't changed a bit, yet every year new editions come out and students are forced to buy the new edition rather than just use a book their sibling used last year or the book their parents used decades ago. The contents are the same.

I feel as though I'm rambling here. It's all much more complicated than what I depict above but I hope you're getting the flavor of what I'm talking about.

The email continues below -

Obviously, the key to making good decisions is the use of critical reasoning and logic. Math will train your brain in the art of critical reasoning and logic. It's just the way it is. Trust me on this, please!

That's good that you are asking yourself questions about yourself and what you want to do. That means you're maturing. I was there ... still am. You're becoming aware that there's a big world out there and there's more to it than you, your school, your friends, and your family. That's an important realization. And I know it's tough - both scholastically and emotionally. You should know that you should only listen to people who truly care about you. It's difficult to decipher between care and manipulation. One thing that will help you to know the difference is the fact that when somebody tells you something and it doesn't make logical sense, it's VERY likely not true - it's a lie. And people who are willing to lie to you aren't your friend and don't really care about you.

It's OK to not know what you want to do with your life. You don't need to know. You can work towards success without knowing what you want to do. Math will aid you no matter what you do. Math will aid you now and it will aid you in the future. You should focus on your studies (all of them) ... this will ensure success no matter what you choose to do. Everything else is just noise. Try not to worry about what others are saying or what they think. It's just noise. At the same time - or as you focus on your studies - you should/need find time to have fun. It's all about being both focused and balanced.

You say you're used to being a top student while not having to work all that hard. I've seen this before. I've even wrote about it with regard to math. Here's a link to an essay I wrote: The Tortoise and the Hare It's a short essay but I think it applies to you. Please read it.

You also say that as math got hard you got stressed and started to try less. And you say it makes no sense. I agree that it doesn't make logical sense. But humans do many things that don't make sense. Actually, I'm not surprised at all. It's natural that we want to move away from things that are hard and/or make us uncomfortable. Don't do that with the Math! Please don't! I have to be honest - the math is going to get much harder and much more challenging. And math builds on itself. Your ability to assimilate new material coming down the pipe has a very high dependence on how well you understand all of the material you've learned up until that point. Again, it's just the way it is. I have to be honest again - I know you can do it. I'm not just saying this because I want you to try harder - I'm saying it because I know you can do it. But it's up to you.

And it's only right now that math has one answer. After you've learned the language of mathematics you'll find that math isn't all that dry with "no wiggle room". Actually math has a lot to do with philosophy believe it or not. Philosophical questions are very mathematical in nature.

You say I gave you a new way of looking at things. I believe it and that's great! But I want you to show me new ways of looking at things. I often learn from my students. I learn because I listen and I'm open to the fact that there's more ways to do problems than only the ways I know. I'm also skilled enough in math to understand what they're saying and to tell whether it makes sense or not.

I hope this makes sense. Your future really does depend on what you do now. Think about that. It's so obvious when you think about it. But somehow people don't conduct themselves in a way that incorporates the future. Look at your dad. He's a great example of a person who conducts himself today with the forethought that tomorrow is right around the corner.

Here's a bad cliche you can tell your friends: "Hard work has future payoff but laziness pays off today." Can you tell what's wrong with that one? :)

We're on the same team!

Best Regards,

Related essays:

The Tortoise and the Hare

A personal note to Students thinking about College

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