I have a question. Please teacher look at me. I’m raising my hand. She’s not looking. Don’t despair. I’ll just wave my hand and bounce up and down. Great she sees me. Okay, sure. I understand. You want me to go to the principal’s office and explain why I was doing calisthenics in math class. Consider it done. Oh, and can I get the math bonus points, if I get the principal to come back with me to help the class with the problem about the two math teachers on two trains one going north and one going south at 90 and 100 mph? Which teacher reaches the hereafter first? Fine, I’ll just ask my Mom about homeschooling me.
This was the beginning of my troubles with math. I wouldn’t wish this plight on anybody, except maybe Big Lou who loved to give me toilet whorlies during gym class, a place I didn’t do well in either because I was so scared of Big Lou that I’d sit real still. My fright rather than flight infuriated the gym teacher who yelled, “This isn’t math class. Get moving Crantz or you’ll be first in the hereafter.” At least somebody knew the answer.
I was relieved to see in the Indy that the school district is instituting a new math curriculum that teaches kids the concept behind the numbers instead of just the mechanics to get the right answer. During the 1950s when I went to grade school, experts instituted a program called ‘New Math’ that was touted to guarantee that America would beat the Russians in the space race. Well thanks to me the good old US of A got to the moon first. Everybody remembers Neil Armstrong’s first words, “Houston we have a problem. There’s nothing to do here. Not even a mall. Crantz is a nerd. Give me his number.”
Of course, I was devastated to get Armstrong’s call that was dialed collect from the moon. I shouldn’t have accepted the charges. While I was good with numbers, this phone bill showed an amount due that I was unprepared for. No school district could have anticipated that numbers could be so large. It didn’t help that NASA had to fire me after Armstrong’s unkind remarks about taking my pocket protector and putting it in a place where the sun doesn’t shine. Children across the world overheard this remark and wanted to know where that place was. Since the 70’s, I haven’t been able to walk down a street without kids pointing at me and saying, “There’s the moon. It doesn’t shine there.”
This column is a cautionary tale. All kids aren’t good at math. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that 99% of students believe that differential and integral calculus is the study of the rates of allowance and the accumulation of allowance over an extended amount of time whereby time has no limits by age or space and is infinitesimal in scope. This ‘Newest Math’ portends that there are only three absolutes. Death. Taxes. Child Support.
So be careful school experts. Kids today are smarter and more practical than the sputnik punks of the ‘50s. They know both how to give whorlies and the concept behind them. Watch your behinds.
Mark is a transplant to Laguna from Chicago. He occasionally writes the guest column “Pet Peeves.” His recently deceased Border Collie, Pokey, is his muse and ghostwriter.