Math is Hell

So, I’m driving in the car the other day and my son (riding shotgun), out of nowhere, asks me:

“Mom, was I a mistake?”

My son is 13, well beyond the age of reason according to the Catholics, and now a man, so far as the Jews are concerned, so I feel I must tell him the truth.

“Son,” I say, turning down the radio to illustrate the seriousness of the matter, “Of course you were. All children are mistakes. Parents just don’t realize it until it’s too late.”

This seemed to satisfy him and it was back to Lady Gaga. My son is a big fan.

I came to my own realization of the Great Mistake, make that Two Great Mistakes, when my children entered the (insert Star Wars “The Imperial March” here) Public Education System. Before that dark and terrible day, life was beautiful. My children and I frolicked like fairies in the forest. There was music and there were wonderful roses…

If anyone had ever told me that I would have to relive, revisit, repeat those long nine years in the Public Education System (I transferred to private school my sophomore year and spent the next three years of high school in varying states of fear), I would’ve gotten out of bed right then and there and given serious consideration to the idea of tubal ligation.

There’s a great Woody Allen line about Nietzsche and his theory of eternal recurrence: “(Nietzsche) said that the life we live we’re gonna live over and over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.”

Give me the Ice Capades over a diorama any day. I don’t want to do school again. And, hey, I saw Dorothy Hamill in the Ice Capades at the Providence Civic Center after her big Olympic win. That and the Barry Manilow concert remain two of the high points in my life. 

But, little did I know, dioramas were just the beginning of a terrible and torturous road marred with five paragraph essays, algebraic equations, geometric theorems, scientific methods, and oral presentations.

I faked sick for a whole week in the sixth grade just to avoid an oral presentation.

I could not believe when my daughter came home from kindergarten, yes, kindergarten, with a card reflecting a grade for Show and Tell.

Speaks Clearly and Effectively, element one of her grade. Maintains Audience Eye Contact, element two. Remains Focused on Topic, element three. Ensures Audience Understanding, element four.

In case you think I’m a crazy, bitter, middle-aged woman, this is a true story. I saved the card.

Maintains Audience Eye Contact? I’m sorry. I thought this was kindergarten and we were just showing off our cool toys. Maintains Audience Eye Contact. I can’t even do that now.   

Needless to say, Show and Tell was not my daughter’s best subject. Turned out, none of them were. In fact, kindergarten was my daughter’s Vietnam. We both have post traumatic stress.

Kindergarten was set up in “stations.” Stations, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular newfangled approach to confusing small children, are where the children are broken up into smaller groups and they go around the room working on different subject related tasks, many of which include uncooked macaroni, until they have completed the entire circuit. This, of course, requires the organizational skills of Martha Stewart and the personal ambition of Oprah Winfrey.

I had never seen anything like this and when I questioned the teacher about this system, she assured me it was a “valid approach to education.” That’s teachertalk for, “What are you, stupid?”

Stations. They were more like Humiliations. There was always one kid shooting his/her hand in the air, finishing first, shaming all the other kids with his/her lightening fast, macaroni mind.  

But that was just the beginning. Back when I went to school, school was fun. At least until the sixth grade. That’s when that mean teacher made me do that horrible oral report, even after being out of school for a whole week faking sick (I never looked up once, never mind Maintained Audience Eye Contact), and Algebra was introduced into my life, thereby crushing my creative spirit. 

Now we have Algebra in the fourth grade. The FOURTH GRADE! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Yes, the nuns assured me, in cases of severe distress, it’s okay to mention all three.

That was the year I entered therapy for my debilitating condition: Mathphobia. At that time I could not see a linear equation without calling the suicide hotline. You see, contrary to popular public education dogma, I had never again used Algebra in my real life, so the sudden resurfacing of my old nemesis was too much for me.

I have made progress, worked through some of my internal integer issues, but I’m still in recovery, so when the kids show up with their Quantum Physics homework (they are now in the seventh and eighth grades) it is a struggle for me. I really have to exercise my breathing techniques. Unfortunately, they usually don’t work so it’s onto the Xanax and margaritas.

It’s my own little  y = mx + b  formula:  Math Homework  =  Magaritas  x  Xanax  +  bedtime.

I may not know what the hell that equation means, but at least school is fun again.

I really do start to sweat when it’s homework time. Especially Math homework time. And, sadly, this Mathphobia condition is hereditary. My daughter has it too. She sees a Math problem, something along the lines of: 3x  +  2/3y  =  6 million over Pi  and it’s all over. We’re both clinging to each other, sweating, crying – we’re like people on a sinking ship or a doomed airliner. My son, of course, is no help. He’s too busy killing Nazi zombies in his room to notice the likes of us.

There should be a video game where you get to kill Math problems. Slowly.

Personally, I do not see the benefit of homework. The stress alone is enough to kill you. Last year, my daughter and I spent all weekend, yes, I mean this literally, rewriting the song “Let it Rock” by Kevin Rudolf and my daughter’s all-time-favorite crackhead, criminal rapper, Lil Wayne, to include all the parts of the cell and their functions. You ever try finding a word that rhymes with golgi bodies? And when I say my daughter and I, I use the term loosely. Who are these teachers? And what the hell are golgi bodies?

And since my son is one year behind my daughter and, coincidently, has the same last name, he gets all the same teachers and all the same horrible projects. I am in hell squared.

I read an article about a couple in Canada who filed a lawsuit about too much homework. The case went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. (Yes, there really is such a place.) The couple won the case, arguing that there was no evidence that homework improved academic performance. The judge ruled that their kids were thereafter exempt from all homework.

Exempt from ALL homework.

Kind of gets me thinking about having another kid.


1 Response to “Math is Hell”

  1. 1 ZeeL
    February 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    The only math lesson I ever retained is the one I learned from my dad. I asked him for ten bucks once. He responded with “9 bucks, what do you need 8 bucks for??”. The day they (the golgi teachers) started mixing in letters with numbers – I lost track. I distinctly remember leaving my 8th grade class on the last day of schoolthinking, while looking down at my end of year report card “I can’t believe I passed math”. Felt more like I passed a kidney stone. I should probobly still be in middle school.


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