Blog 964 – 04.14.2018

Dear Algebra

My son Jay and many of you are “numbers” folk while I and a number of you others are word guys, girls too. I have had on occasions some fun with cute little numbers. Algebra One, and Two in high school were not two of those. When I first saw today’s picture quote I had to laugh like my dad who was with his favorite stories a veritable juke box, all you had to do to retrieve a favorite story was to invest a little time, some were longer than others, and to just push the right buttons to get him started. Well, today’s picture pushed my Algebra story math button so so here goes.

In middle school, we called it junior high, in the eighth grade specifically, I had a scary scarring encounter with “modern math.” My dad loved arithmetic and when I was a boy spent a lot of time with me, perhaps the biggest chunk of one-on-one time I recall having with him, teaching me to memorize the multiplication tables. I understand kids don’t do that anymore. Hard as it was to drum those numbers into my head it gave me one of my first senses of accomplishment right up there with learning to tie my shoe laces and to balance and ride a bike. His good work stood me in good stead arithmetically till modern math. Dad nor mom could longer help me, for modern math was also beyond both their math abilities, and I was lost in a class, all of whom seemed math geniuses to me.

Had it not been for the compassion of the lovely Jewish math teacher, Dorothy Hyman Kasset, who gave me D minuses that I did not even deserve, my grade point average would have dropped off the bottom of the charts. The experience was so bad that in ninth grade I signed up for Business Math. I needed desperately an easy win and it was for me and then there was Sandra Bankston in the class, herself a lovely little number.

Encouraged by all A’s and B’s in Business Math, when at my new high school, Chattanooga Central High, I signed up for Algebra One, my sophomore year, intending to take Algebra Two in my junior year and have a major in math without ever having to take the purportedly daunting Calculus. My scheme worked but not quite as easily as I had planned. Algebra was Modern Math all over again and it was only because there was a serious flaw in the Algebra One and Two teacher’s grading procedure that I was able to accomplish my goal, my major in math.

Algebra like Modern Math was something that I never quite got a handle on. But here is how I made it through two years of Algebra with B’s and maybe even an occasional A. Mrs. Ware had an overhead projector in class where with a grease pencil she wrote down the first two problems of each day’s lesson with all the steps for solving the equation which examples she asked the class to copy down, most did. Then she assigned alternating numbers, odds or evens, to be completed at home or in study hall after class. The end answers but not the steps were given in the back of the textbook so you could check to see if you reached the correct conclusion, not much help really, and you will see why. Homework turned in on time was eighty percent of the grade in that class. The rest came from the mid-term and final exams.

Like many teachers Mrs. Ware had a unique and particular scheme, she was a fanatic about it, for putting your name, class, and date on the top back right side of your long ways folded homework sheets before passing them to the front of the class the next day. This we did first thing every class. All she did was mark completed or not in her daily role book for the class. All I and some others, I am sure, did was copy the two examples she had shown on the screen, mark and fold them correctly, and turn them in the next day as our completed homework. Two full years of this and I was even able to pass, barely, most mid-term and final exams without ever understanding who X and Y were or where Y was supposed to be or had gone. (Hence my laughter at today’s quote pic.)

Thanks to Mrs. Ware’s faulty or planned homework grading loophole I had plenty of time in study hall to write poems and to make and to test paper air planes. Without good algebraic skills I was destined to not become a true aircraft designer but with all that practice writing poetry, a writer I was even then and I have continued practicing my writing craft all these years and thereby hope to encourage many for more years to come.

Your friend and fellow traveler,

with no head or heart numbers (except pretty ones)

but only a head and heart full of words and songs for you,

David White

We could be twins 🙂 I mastered arithmetic but I struggled with and eventually loathed Algebra, which made no sense, still makes no real sense, but I accpet others find it like poetry.

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