Algebra is like a good crossword puzzle. For any given equation you know that if you have values for all the unknowns except one, then you can solve for that unknown by balancing both sides. Typically that unknown is x.
As a girl, most of my experience with algebra involved solving set problems in which I had to arrive at the value of an x which someone else had already determined. (What is x? or, If x is. . . , then what is y?) What fascinates me more, though, is the idea that it is a variable quantity, not a fixed one. There is a great sense of satisfaction, akin to the feeling of solving a crossword puzzle, in solving for x in an algebra problem. But an even more exhilarating sense of freedom attends the recognition that x is entirely provisional. Within a given framework, one can set its value oneself, or play with different values for it (Let x be. . .).
It’s interesting that in popular culture, x has more often than not been perceived as dangerous by virtue of being unknown, simply because anything unknown, undefined, is by definition threatening. We see this every day in the fear of the Other, which is manipulated by the media and by those in power for their own benefit. What a liberating change when the unknown, rather than being a threat, becomes an invitation to enter a new world-in-the-making, one in which the identity of x is not fixed and predetermined; in which the value of x is not a problem set for children by examiners and judges, but one whose solution is a delightful challenge open to our collective creativity!