It’s no secret: I hate math. Just looking at rows of numbers makes my head begin to ache. To be honest, I’m not certain where my dislike for the subject began. In the second grade, I was subjected to “experimentation” in which students were taught an “easier” way to add. The system (known as “touch points”) involved physically touching the tip of your pencil to certain memorized points on every number from 1-9 and counting each point to tally the sum of the numbers. While, at the time, it was faster than memorizing 5+7=12, in the long-run, it was crippling.
My parents pulled me from the local public school after that year and, for the next several grades, my mother labored diligently to un-teach what I had learned. I admit to having felt some humiliation at having been the only Jr. Higher I knew who struggled with simple addition. I could stare for hours at the simplest problems… which made life incredibly difficult when those simple problems became more complex. Algebra was an exercise in suffering and it seemed nothing short of a miracle that both my mother and I made it through alive.
Of course, some of the difficulty arose from the fact that my parents didn’t want me to receive a merely “acceptable” education. Graduating with C’s was not an option (at least not when I had ambitions of becoming an astronaut). Though it likely only happened once or twice, I have vivid recollections of six hours a day being spent reviewing tests which yielded poor grades, slaving until each of the problems had been solved correctly. Mom didn’t just want me to plug random numbers into the equations – she wanted me to understand why I was plugging those numbers in where I was. And a failure to find the correct answer on a number of similar problems indicated that I didn’t understand the concept.
As painful as the experience was, I graduated from High School with a higher-than-average ability to perform basic mathematical computations. (Yay Mom!!) But I also graduated with a silent, but unspoken belief that Math was a bit like Methamphetamine – something which should not be tried… even once.
I did my best to avoid it at all costs and would have succeeded if not for the fact that I found myself bombarded by numbers nearly everywhere. At the grocery store, I had to figure out which can of tomatoes was the least expensive. (How many cents per ounce does brand “A” cost?) At the check register, I had to count back change. And during inventory, I had to tally quantities of identical items located at opposite ends of the store. There was no escaping the harsh reality that math was an essential part of everyday life. Or that I was well prepared to use it in each of these situations.
I’ll admit that the praise I received for being able to accurately compute numbers was a bit of a morale booster. It this knowledge that led me to make a career choice that shocked my parents, nearly to the point of speechlessness. When a position as a buyer opened up at my company, I put my name forward for the position. Yes, I wanted a job that dealt with numbers. Lots of them. Constantly. (To be continued…)