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Why don’t they teach math so that it is cool and interesting?

They do when you are a little kid.

Q: If there are 3 orangutans and 12 bananas, how many bananas does each orangutan get if you divide the bananas equally among the oranguatans?

A: Oook.*

Anyways, as I was saying, when you’re little, they make math very concrete and practical. I wish they’d carry that a little further on than, sau, 3rd grade.

I remember taking a childish prejudice against math because it struck me as being very dull and not very practical around 4th grade. I’d finally got my head around multiplication, division, and fractions, and that adding and subtracting stuff was old hat. So, what next? I think we started dealing with negative numbers then. Frankly, I don’t remember. From about age 9 ro 10, onward, I would fall into a stupified trance during every mathematics lesson, nodding and mumbling “uuuh…integers…..umm…raised to the power of 3….if x=…blah, blah, blah” and none of it sunk into my thick little skull. No teacher I had could adequately explain to me how I’d use the Pythagorean Theorum in “the real world” or why a line was infinite. Graphing parabolas? Sure–whatever. Doodle a u-shape, scrawl some blurry, messy, incomprehensible numbers and letters on it, and pretend you’ve done the homework. Somehow I managed to keep my head enough above water to pass all of my math classes from 5th grad onward with Ds, to pass my college Algebra class with the same, and to promptly forget every mathy thing taught to me since 1988.

The precious little geometry and physics I know came from the summer Eli and I were my dad’s stock-car racing pit-crew, and we got all into scientific chassis setup and fine-tuning carburetors (carbs were my specialty because my tiny hands were perfect for getting jets in and out, and my spatial sense was perfect for remembering exactly where all those little gaskets and grommets went when I had to put the carburetor back together, layer by layer). Anyway, Eli and I got way into chassis fine-tuning, and kept extensive records of suspension performance by means of logs of lap times, tire pressure, tire compound, and tire temperature. I could tell from a four-wheel pyrometer reading whether one or another tire was over or under-inflated. I could tell if one tire was gaining or losing too much camber. I could tell when we needed to swap out for a different compound. As a result of my dad’s comfort level with his car and driving skills coupled with Eli’s and my dogged attention to statistics, geometry, and tuning, my dad and his car took high-points winner that season at the track, and I learned more applicable math than I had learnt in three years of highschool.

All of what math I now know I have mostly learned from practical application. I can reduce or enlarge patterns by manipulating fractions. I can figure my car’s gas mileage by time/speed/usage or by odometor-reading/usage.

I’ve taught myself how to tell military time, now to use metric measurements, and how to roughly convert currency quickly in my head.

My teachers were always telling me how much I would use math in my daily life. They also told me that if I ever tried drugs, even a tiny whiff of pot, and I would become an addict, and that the first time I ever fucked, I’d get pregnant, catch AIDS, and become a social pariah.

Obviously, I’m not a scientific woman. I never put any effort into trying to learn math, and so here I am, pink-collar and lame. Calculus, Physics, and gods only knows what all other higher maths are not a part of my working life. On a day-to-day basis, most of the math I do regularly is probably up to 5th-grade standards of difficulty, though I could be wrong, as I expect they expect more of 5th graders these days. Anyway, as I am trying to say, my life doesn’t require imaginary numbers, x-coordinates, or, indeed, theorums. Maybe if at some point in my dim and fuzzy schoolgirl past, somebody had made these concepts out to be a part of practical living, I might have embraced them. If I could have seen that these had a use outside of determining whether or not I got put on Academic Probation, they might have stuck, and I might have higher math skills.

*Four–ask the Librarian next time you swing by the Unseen University.

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