How can I explain to my students (and their advisors) that the math they are learning is “elementary” without sounding condescending?

Something I have struggled with for several years as a college/university professor is how to explain that the math they are learning is…not hard (hell it’s barely even math).
To a senior and 21 year old brain, Algebraic Topology may feel incredibly difficult because it is their first year dealing with mathematics more abstractly. (If it were up to me, we would rename Real Analysis I & II as arithmetic, not math but that is besides the point)
Because many students have math anxiety and lack skills, I tell them that if they find Real Analysis I & II overwhelmingly difficult, they don’t belong in advanced math.
Advisors (usually ones lacking a math background) fight tooth and nail to keep their advisees in advanced math but I just feel like as the years go by, I am becoming less empathetic. I remember how easy math felt at that age and how hard I worked in writing my dissertation.
Now, knowing where math goes and seeing what I’ve seen, I struggle to convey how…elementary my class is in the grand scheme of mathematics. I hope this makes sense but it is incredibly hard to keep a straight face when a student complains that “asking students to compute the cohomology of a CW-complex” is too difficult after writing proofs for my recent research paper.
I don’t want to come off as an asshole but so many students vastly, vastly overestimate their math abilities when (usually) I can count on one hand the types of students who can handle mathematics rigor. Maybe it’s the problem working at a private university…

#explain #students #advisors #math #learning #elementary #sounding #condescending

What do you think?

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