12 August 2016

Moron



I’ve never been very good at math.

It was a struggle all of my life. It impacted me in many little ways such as the frustration over not being able to balance my checkbook month after month. 

I finally gave up. Thankfully, I no longer have to worry about it with online banking.

In fact, in most of the arts and in modern life today, the most math one has to do is figure out a restaurant tip. For me: just divide by five and round up. Now restaurants are even giving you ways to figure it out electronically. 

Just don't be a dick like this guy
I struggled along in elementary school with an older, somewhat unhinged nun who took it personally if we didn’t understanding our math lessons. She’d rap a ruler on our desk in front of us (or occasionally on our hands) and scream “you pretty pray to the Holy Spirit that you some to understand this material.”

". . . and bad attitudes"
I swear I’m not making that up: teaching math through Catholic terror.

And people wonder how I got so screwed up.

Fast forward to high school.

The easy stuff – multiplication, addition, subtraction, division. Occasionally I’d make a mistake but no big deal.

Geometry presented me with a small challenge. I was able to muddle through.

Then came Algebra 1. It was tough but very basic and I was able to squeak through with a ‘C.’

Then came Algebra 2 and trigonometry and I was screwed. For me, even in the lowest class (arranged by tested ability), it was a bridge too far. 

Yeah, pretty much like that.
The worst part was being called to the blackboard to figure a problem. Inevitably, I would get a little into the problem and freeze, chalk to board. I would start to sweat – seriously. It felt like the whole world was watching. I could hear the other students scribbling away as I just stood there – petrified in terror.

Add a lot more sweat and yeah, kinda like this.
Finally I would be dismissed from the board with my half-assed, half-done problem looking like some kind of aborted line of code next to the others, which were completed. I would walk back, face burning, head down, hoping people would forget.


My grades tanked from the very beginning. My mother, a career public school teacher, called my teacher and asked her if she would tutor me. We all agreed this would be a great idea.

I went to exactly one tutoring session. It was in the auditorium and 10 minutes into it, the band started playing. Frustrated not only at that but by my seeming inability to master what she was trying to teach me, she ended the session and said she would call my mom.

She did – that night. I was in the dining room listening the whole time.

Here was the deal – if I did a good faith effort to do the homework, my teacher would not call on me in class and land up giving me a ‘gentleman’s D’ for the course.

My mom, who with dad had shelled out serious money (for them) for my Catholic education, took the deal to her everlasting shame. She had no faith in me passing on my own and I needed this class to graduate. Basically my teacher made her an offer she couldn't refuse.
You knew this was coming, didn't you?
But the shame wasn't just on her but me as well. I felt shame like I had never felt before – even more shame than my father had ever tried to impart on me and he was a master at it.

Nuns have an interesting range of emotion
I felt like a hopeless moron. 

Do you know how long I've been waiting to use a Stooges photo?
To my credit, I didn’t let it prevent me from trying out and being on my high school team’s TV quiz show team. After all, I KNEW there were subjects I was good in. 

But I let someone else handle all the math questions. 

Thankfully, that was the last math class I had to take in high school. But college loomed.

Luckily, I went to Cleveland State where they were more concerned that Liberal Arts students took the infamous ‘Group 4’ courses (social action) than piddly math courses. I was able to get away with taking something called ‘Math for Liberal Arts Students’ which had a curriculum comprised of puzzles and math games.

And I still struggled with it. Got a ‘C.’ 

Fifteen years after that debacle, I decided to enroll in a technical math class at the local community college. I had something to prove to myself.

And I found that without the pressure of the grade and the humiliation of having to stand at the board, I did just fine. I proved to myself that I could do it. 
Ahh, much better. We could even bring coffee.
But I wonder about the kids like me whose confidence in math was broken at an early age and never recovered. What became of them? Did they find gainful employment in a job that made them feel worthwhile? Or did they continue to believe that there were some subjects they simply would never be capable of doing?

Whatever the case, I firmly believe that no subject can be taught by humiliation and intimidation. Some of us just don’t respond that way. The thing that bothered me most is wondering what I could have done, what other classes or paths I could have taken, if I been presented the material in a way that clicked with me?