I am terribly math challenged.
Please believe me when I say that I am not the least bit proud of this. I have met girls and women who seem to enjoy telling people about their math inability, but I am not one of them. My mother and sisters were straight A math students. Sadly, I take after my father, who was not.
I would like to think that I am secretly capable of doing math. I am not stupid, and I had perfectly decent teachers, including my own mother, who did everything in their power to help me. Friends who were struggling with simultaneous equations or recurrence relations would come over to my house to be taught by my mother. We would sit on either side of her and she would take us both through whatever we were studying step by patient step. "I get it now!" they would say when she had finished, eyes brimming with the light of reason. My mother would then turn to me, at which point I either faked it and pretended to understand or confessed that I hadn't been paying attention.
I squeaked through high school with Cs in algebra and geometry. Much to my mother's distress, but possibly also to her relief, I never went any higher.
My daughters, I am amazed and delighted to say, do not take after me in math cluelessness. They may not be the best students in their math classes, but they are capable and interested. I listen to them telling me about quadratic equations or trigonometry and I marvel that I could have produced children who understand and like math.
The other day, my daughter came home from school with a funny story. A particularly dimwitted girl in her math class was butchering the differentiation of a form of X. (Please don't ask me what that means -- my eyes glazed over just writing it.) The class had been set the task of finding the differentiated form of a function and to do so there were several different stages they had to go through. While everyone was working on the problem at their own rate, they could hear the teacher berating this girl, telling her that her methods were total nonsense.
But the girl insisted that she was right.
Finally, the teacher threw up his hands. "Okay," he spluttered, "I'm going to give you a problem which you are going to solve with your method." His lip curled when he said the word method, but the girl flounced up to the board in her short skirts and waited while he wrote out a particularly nasty problem. She took the marker. In a most inexpert fashion, she shifted numbers around with no apparent logic while the teacher smiled with barely concealed scorn. The teacher, who had not yet worked out the answer himself, then tackled the problem in his own methodical way, step by step. And when he got the answer, his mouth fell open in amazement as the entire class exploded into laughter.
They had both come up with the exact same answer. The teacher claimed that in twenty years of teaching, he had never seen anything like it.
Interestingly enough, I once experienced something very similar. After my disgraceful performance in algebra and geometry, I graduated from high school and went to Florida, flying in a plane for the first time in my life, to visit my cousins in Pensacola. Shortly after we took off, a quiz was distributed inviting passengers to calculate the precise time we would be flying over the Alamo. We were given certain information: the departure time, the plane's average speed, the head winds, the tail winds, and total distance covered.
I took one look at this and felt a little weak in the knees -- I knew math when I saw it! -- but I had stupidly forgotten to bring a book and after all, we weren't being tested on it. So I worked out an equation, marked down my answer, and turned it in to the stewardess.
Twenty minutes later there was an announcement made over the intercom. An accountant from New York City and I had tied for first place. We had each won a bottle of champagne.
The stewardess gave me a bright smile as she handed me my champagne voucher. "You must be one of those math whizzes!" she gushed. I gave her a weak smile back and thanked God that she would never know.
To this day, I will never understand how I did that. "Maybe they made a mistake marking it," my younger sister said when she heard the story. "Even a broken clock is right twice a day," my older sister said. But in my heart of hearts, I want to believe that just like my daughter's classmate, I reached the correct destination -- finally -- my own creative way.
Monday, 4 October 2010
I am terribly math challenged.