Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When Bad Math Happens to Good People

Tragedy struck the office. I passed by Lisa's desk and witnessed something truly terrible:

Death by Math Manipulatives.

Kim came by and witnessed the carnage. Oh, the horror.

She will be missed.

It's strange that the manipulatives would attack like that. Lisa's a Math Person. She likes numbers. Don't you think they would have recognized their own? I suppose it's like in "2001: A Space Odyssey" - when HAL attacks Dave because he sees him as a threat. Maybe Lisa was a threat to the manipulatives' plans to take over the district or start a juice bar. Who really knows the inner workings of manipulatives? (Side note #1: HAL's death is the greatest movie death scene ever.) (Side note #2: Can someone please explain to me why 2001 always makes it onto the top 10 list of every movie buff. I wanted to shoot myself in the foot when I watched it.) (Side note #3: After you're done explaining the mysteries of 2001, please explain why the word "buff" has become synonymous with "enthusiast".) (Side note #4: When I typed in "buffs" in Wikipedia one of the links was to the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.) (Side note #5: Never mind about #3. I found it out.) (End of side notes.)

I'm not a Math Person so I think I'm safe. And to prove this I will now divulge something: I failed Geometry. As in a big fat F at the end of the semester. I should probably be ashamed of this. I am not. Geometry made no sense to me. I could never see the point, or the benefit, of explaining how a triangle is a triangle and my teacher could never adequately explain to me why I should do it, except that my grade depended on it. And while that may be a good motivation for some people, at the time it was not for me. I like to blame it on the fact that in that same semester I was in the school play and I was taking all sorts of hard classes and I was reading Moby Dick.* Have you read Moby Dick? How is a girl suppose to care about Geometry when she's drowning in whale blubber? I could very easily blame Moby Dick, Ahab certainly did, but it wasn't his fault. I was 16 and stupid and I didn't like Geometry and didn't want to do the work. End of story.

Except that it wasn't. Because some years later, during a semester where I actually had to reread Moby Dick and watch "2001: A Space Odyssey", I suddenly became a Math Person. Well, in the sense that I appreciated that there is one correct answer in Math. I was taking five English classes and that semester was spent reading and writing and reading and writing with more writing and writing and writing and then some more reading followed by writing. And then there was the thinking. Knights of Columbus, I thought the pants off of that semester! And at the end of it all, what I really wanted to do was algebra. Because I just wanted one answer. I wanted to do a few simple steps and find out exactly what x was and I didn't want to have to defend it. It was the first time in my life that I actually wanted to do math. It passed after about a week of keeping my check book balanced.

This brings me to an open letter:

Dear Ms. Geometry Teacher Whose Name I Have Forgotten:

I once asked you what I would use geometry for in real life and you said, "Carpentry and quilting." I've never actually worked with wood so you may be right about that one but I've made quite a few quilts and they've all pretty much turned out just fine despite the fact that I didn't learn a thing from your class. Actually, knowing fractions has been more helpful in quilting than having the ability to recognize a right angle. Don't be discouraged. I didn't actually believe you when you said it.


*Random trivia that may be helpful if you're ever on Jeopardy!: The name of the ship that rescued Ishmael after Moby slammed into the the Pequod was the Rachel.


Laura said...

I'm so glad there are other non-math people out there! I think I got a D in geometry, but only managed that because my parents made me go to tutoring! The funny thing is now, I work in the financial industry and at least half of my day is math related. Oh joy! If these zillionaires only knew that it was me, the math hater and failer, who was tracking their accounts! That's how I secretly stick it to them when I see that they made more interest in a week on this one account than I make in an entire year!

Anonymous said...

I'm honored to have secured a posting in Rachel's blog! I have actualized. I should have you know, though, that I am not a real math person and the manipulatives know it. And let this be a lesson to the rest of you. If you're playing at your desk and Rachel happens to pass by, anything can happen.

Ms. Liz said...

You know, Geometry and calculus were the only maths that made any sense to me and that I did well in. Mostly because they were spacial and visual (as opposed to algebra). I'm pretty sure I would have loathed calculus if I had not seen Stand and Deliver and taken along side Physics because calculus in a vacuum might be a legal form or torture.

Liz the Poet said...

Oh Math, how I love the one right answer!

When I had to take math in college, I ended up really enjoying it. And that's when I remembered that I was actually an Algebra II T.A. in high school. I had completely forgotten.

Rach said...

I remember that semester. I think. Was that the same semester you also had to watch Solaris and spent the rest of the semester in the fetal position? I still haven't seen that movie, even though they have it for 5 bucks at Walmart. I remember your reaction. And, as a sidenote, I couldn't even make it to the death scene of 2001. I didn't even make it past the monkeys hitting things with giant bones. Bill and Ted's is on my top ten, but 2001 is not.

rachelsaysso said...

Yep, that was the Solaris semester. I still sometimes get into the fetal position when I think about it.