Ever since the third grade, which is the earliest math memory I have, I have hated the idea of numbers. I was easily manipulated at the age of eight and pretty did whatever an authority figure told me. Dinner time meant I ate, while bed time meant I slept. So when my teacher, a woman I very much liked, would say “Time for math!” I didn’t argue. I contained my fear to silent panic attacks.
Fridays were the worst, a day meant for “fun” math activities, which was just a tricky name for timed tests. Each time she said this, that it would be fun, I hoped it to actually be true. But every Friday was met with disappointment, then with an intense and stressful afternoon.
The test problems were printed on a cardboard sheet with cutout holes to mark the answers – little cardboard pieces of hell. Each student got four sections of tick-tocking agony – plus, take away, times, and division, the last of which sucked so hard even third graders wouldn’t give it a nickname – and we would place blank papers inside. Our answers, which were shallowed by layers, were impossible to cheat from. And because we were timed, it made me want to kill myself. What IS 12/3?! Why aren’t I allowed scratch paper? The clock is so loud! In reality, in must have only been minutes, but for those who never made it before the time was up (me), it felt like hours of ear-pounding, palm-sweating torture. All of this forced by the teacher I thought I liked.
Later in life math would only continue to hate me. Like it was the popular kid and I the skinny kid in braces (which just happened to be true), it sought me out on a daily basis. But instead of facing my bully, which is to say studying and trying to understand how it worked, I cowered in the back row. Between my unwillingness to learn and bad eyesight, I’d hurt both my understanding of numbers and my grades … which I guess is the same thing.
Higher Education Fails Me
While enrolling for my first semester of college, my advisor told me I’d need math credits in order to graduate, three of them. But not just any three, they had to be specific. “Why they don’t make you take something useful is beyond me,” she said. “There should be a class on ‘how to tile your kitchen floor’ or ‘tax filing 101.’ That’s a skill everyone needs.” Unfortunately, her wisdom had no affect on the rule.
To add insult, the college told me I wasn’t smart enough to take this forced class outright. I first had to take a weaker version, like math was hard liquor and I was building up tolerance.
The watered-down class was taught by a white-haired, enthusiastic man, who, to be fair, was an excellent teacher; I just had no interest in what he had to say. Monday through Thursday I was forced to get up at 7 o’clock – a fact that made me despise the class more than I had already – to learn how numbers and letters mixed. I passed with a C.
The following semester I took a “college level” class with my former high school teacher. He knew me, and therefore knew what math I was capable of, but seeing as he pretty much eliminated the need for grading, we had no issues. He didn’t believe in assignments that weren’t group ones, and tests were multiple choice. No more did the punishing red pen take over my work; if it was wrong, a simple “x” indicated an error. Math had finally worked in my favor, each question allotted me a 25 percent chance to get it right.
Class time, rather than studying, was often spent guessing at which time the thermostat would drop, and by how many degrees. If the temperature and time were guessed correctly, a Jolly Rancher was earned. Candies were also given out as condolence prizes to wrong guesses … a combination I see as a metaphor for my grade. And that was the final math class I’ve ever taken, one where the participants were more concerned with learning how to rig thermostats than math. Six years and hundreds of (actually useful) credits later, I got my degree in a subject not even remotely related to math: English.
Post Testing Abilities
In all actuality, I rarely have to use math of any kind. A calculator is readily available on my phone, and I have yet to be asked in an emergency what time differently paced trains will arrive.
Really, the only time math is a serious issue is when preparing my taxes. I own my own business. There’s no one to send me all the tidy paperwork with all the fees already taken out. There have been no take away fees, no plus interests, nor any timesing or dividing of any kind. Just money, tucked away, me with a vague idea of sums and what goes to Uncle Sam. I feel bad for my account, who will undoubtedly have to spend hours fixing my mistakes. And to my college advisor, the one who condemned the system of math, said it was useless to find square roots and letter values, you were right, I really should’ve learned how to file my taxes.
Pumpkin photo courtesy of Flickr.