Friday, January 26, 2007

"Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost."

My mom would have been seventy-four today.

I am half the age she would have been.

I have never understood those math problems in which Mary is X; Jane is Y years younger than Mary; in fifteen years, how old will Jane be? Or whatever the fuck they are; hell, if I can’t solve them, do you expect me to be able to make up one? But I know you know what I mean.

Yesterday a co-worker was talking about her high-school-aged son’s math homework. She was casually and knowledgeably tossing around phrases like “solving for X” and “linear function” and “invisible number.”

In my small and woefully inadequate private religious high school, you were either “College Prep” (euphemism for “smart”) or “Business Track” (euphemism for “not so smart”). If you were College Track, and I was, you took algebra I in eighth grade, geometry in ninth, algebra II in tenth, trig junior year, and calculus senior year.

Not that I was remotely good at math; I managed to get by and get decent grades, but math never came easily to me. I adored the IDEA of geometry, and I loved the puzzle aspects of calculus. I passed the classes, fervently thanked God I was not required to take any math in college, and ultimately bailed on taking the MCATs because I was reasonably sure I did not possess nor could I acquire any necessary mathematical skills. (Well, that, and organic chem scared the piss out of me.)

So imagine my nausea when L began tossing around these math phrases and it occurred to me that in not too many years I am going to have a high-school-aged child who will be expected to do math homework and who will probably ask me for help. (Although if he really thinks I have the slightest clue, perhaps he’s not as smart as I think?)

THANK GOD I was foresighted enough to marry a mathematics major.


Gina said...

Weirdly, sadly maybe, I dig math. I love checking myself and secretly doing a few problems from the boy's homework each night, to make sure I still know how to multiply and divide fractions, and solve simple equations for x. I am looking very forward to his taking algebra and the higher maths, because I'll get to play too!

Dork. But math is fun . . . and I have to say that the challenge of being given a problem and finding the path to the right answer has something in common with work on the reference desk.

Maybe if you look at it that way?

delta said...

Actually, it was "imaginary numbers," not invisible ones...

If it makes you feel any better, parents are NOT expected to teach their children math. Unless they homeschool, of course. That is what the teachers are supposed to be doing.

Think of your role as more "supervisory" in nature. Your kids may take foreign languages you never had, sciences you never took, etc. So, it is not just mathematics that is going to be the bugaboo. Plus, who remembers all the stuff they learned in school, anyway????

If your son asks for your help on something and you cannot help him, then have him go to his teacher with his questions/problems so he/she can help him. That is what they are trained to do -- and get well paid for doing, in most cases these days.

And when it comes to reference-type questions (definitions, dates, information, etc.), I, the reference librarian, make my kids look it up themselves. I might show them how to do it or where to look or give them a friendly hint, but they need to learn those skills on their own. I do like it when they study in the same room I am in, or ask me to quiz them on something, or have me proofread a paper (I am Conan the Grammarian). They do ask for my help and advice a lot, especially on schoolwork/homework issues, but sometimes I think they do it so we can spend more time together or have extra one-on-one time. And that is just fine with me!

Badger said...

Dude. By the time your oldest gets to high school, you will have already been through elementary and middle school math with him. You'll do okay.

I hated math in school and had horrible math teachers with the exception of 8th grade. I am only JUST NOW really learning math, because of my kids and their homework. It makes so much more sense to me now, and I actually [whisper]kind of like it[/whisper].

Oh, and organic chemistry was WAY FUN! I burned a hole right through my shoe and sock and into my toe in that class! With some wacky chemical or other! You have to love that!

Now INorganic chemistry -- THAT was a bitch.

Lazy cow said...

I liked maths, but I still asked my parents to hire a tutor to help me in Year 12. Then went on to do maths at uni. There is something so incredibly satisfying about solving algebra equations. Hey, don't worry about it yet, there's still years to go :-)

nutmeg said...

Maths appeals to the analytical/problem solving part of my brain and I did pretty well at it in highschool. It's funny though, I have been having similar thoughts (and my girls are only 2 and 5); I feel I will be able to fudge some knowledge in some other subjects but maths is all formulas and rules which I don't think I remember at all. I may surprise myself, who knows?

I've already checked out Sharp Objects and it has now made its way onto my booklist. I used to be so proud of the fact that I had got over biting my nails - though I found I was just kidding myself as my cuticles now get what the finger nails used to. And it doesn't have to be a scary book :-) Thanks for stoppong by earlier - I've been a lurker here for a while!

Badger said...

Ack, got all distracted by the math and forgot to comment on your mom's birthday. I am sending you hugs.

David said...

I am quite certain I have forgotten more math than I know - and I use it every day.

Even though it seems like kids are going further in math in high school - I really don't see it in my students. Puzzling.

Thank goodness the validations for comments aren't math problems: "to post your comment, find the limit of the function as x approaches zero." HA!

I guess you were really planning ahead by marrying a math major. I am not possessed of such fore site.

Paula said...

I'm sending warm thoughts about your mom.

The math is another thing, and I hate to argue with Badger but it won't do you any good to go through elmentary and middle school math with them, because you've ALREADY BEEN THERE. The only difference now is your brain is older. But you will do fine because math is a dad job.

You can call me Miss Sunshine...

Sarah Louise said...

Happy would have been birthday, Bab's mom!