Today I had to do math at work. I had to figure out currency exchange rates which meant percentages were involved. Percentages! I can never, never remember how to do that. Every time I have to start out with something I already know the answer to and then work backwards to figure out how I'm supposed to come to that answer. Yes, folks, not just percentages, but percentages done backwards! Ugh. And it's not like I enjoy doing math at the best of times.
My dislike of math goes way back to childhood. Third grade to be exact. Halfway through the school year we moved and I changed school systems. This would not have been an issue except that at my old school they were heavily into teaching us "new math." New math. What the heck is that? Who came up with the idea of reinventing math? It's numbers, for crying out loud. We've had the same math since the first caveman sat around trying to figure out how many clubs he had, and it worked just fine for a few millenia until some earnest young thing got a bright idea. Geez.
So there I was the new kid in a new school that was doing math the old way, the way every generation since cave guy had been doing it, and my first math class they might as well have been talking physics. I didn't even have a clue about times tables, that's how bad it was. Mom worked with me and got me up to snuff on all that stuff, because she learned her math the old fashioned way too. But in the meantime I had some self esteem issues because, hey, new kid, new school isn't bad enough I have to look ignorant too? No, my teachers weren't big meanies; we just didn't any of us have clue one where the other was coming from.
And I never really recovered from that. I mean, I went on to do just fine at all the basic math stuff and even took some advanced math classes in junior high. Well, to be honest, that was my counselor's idea. I was considered fairly bright so they kept trying to shove me in AP classes. So there I was this math phobic teen expected to play nice in first algebra and then geometry class. Again I say, ugh. Fortunately for me I had a great teacher, Mr. Mewborn, and was fast friends with another girl in class who suffered similarly.
Here's the biggest problem with math classes. It isn't enough that you know how to do the problems. They want you to do them fast. Why? What kind of instant, life altering decisions do they think you're going to encounter? Only McGuyver was ever in that kind of position. In real life, nobody's life or death hinges on how fast they can figure out the length of one side of a triangle. It just doesn't. So what's the big rush?
Back to Mr. Mewborn, Bob bless him. If it wasn't for him I never would have made it through. Talk about underappreciated teachers. He used to let my friend and I stay after on days when there had been a test. Then he would put a tough problem up on the blackboard and sit there listening while we worked out the answer. If we could prove that we knew how to answer the problem, given enough time, and came up with the correct answer, he would factor that into our test grades. Because he realized that all that really mattered was that we had learned what he was trying to teach us. I don't say it stuck with me, but without him my math phobia would have been much worse.
So thank you, Mr. Mewborn. I still don't give a rat's behind about theorems; but if I'm given enough time and a big enough blackboard, probably it won't kill anyone.