So obviously this video sets this girl up for a boatload of ridicule, and if we are to judge her intelligence based solely on these infamous 5 minutes, we may assume that she is not the quickest bunny in the forest. But I found her to be endearing, because, in many ways, I AM her.
So there, my secret is out: I operate on about a
6th 5th 4th grade math level. Well, 3rd if we are talking proficiency. Things really started to fall apart with fractions and percentages.
My math trauma began in 1st grade. I am not sure if I was not understanding the material or just bored, but I remember spending the majority of class staring out the window, pondering big questions like “how do birds know which way is south?”
The teacher – we will call her Ms. N- branded me a daydreamer and banished me to the back table, separated from the rest of the room by a folding divider. This did not miraculously spark my interest in subtraction, but I did learn how to draw a kick-ass unicorn by sketching them for hours on the back of the divider. It was only a matter of time before Mrs. N called me and one other girl – we will call her Patty – out into the hallway.
“Girls, I think this group is moving too fast for you. You are being moved to a classroom that is more appropriate for your skill level.” Patty and I exchanged somber glances. Even at age 6, we knew things could only go downhill from here.
We were right.
Each year I seemed to know a little bit less than I did the year before. It was like the more math I was taught, the more fuzzy it all became. My math aversion developed into a deep hatred, and thanks to games like “Around the World” (a timed competition in which the teacher shouts math questions like a drill sergeant) my hatred morphed into a paralyzing fear.
Maybe I have math induced PTSD, because anytime I am asked to answer a math question promptly (“What’s 40% of $150?”) I start shouting out random numbers ($80! $78! $83.50!) in the off chance I might nail it. It’s like a futile amalgamation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey and The Price is Right. And as for word problems, this pretty much sums it up:
Somehow I made it through 12th grade – thanks to summer school, tutors, and my 12th grade pre-calc teacher – we will call him Mr. F- who passed me because he simply could not bear to spend another early morning tutoring session trying to teach me complex numbers. Mr. F was wise to the fact that for some people, every number is a complex number. On the last day of school, he removed his coke bottle glasses, rubbed his eyes, and said with a sigh, “You just don’t get it.”
Yes! I KNOW! Thank you! You would think this would have discouraged me, but what it did was free me. I skipped out of the classroom feeling light as a feather. I felt that Mr. F had given me permission to say, “I suck at math! And I don’t care!”
And 17 years later, I still suck at math and I still don’t care. As long as my girls know that I am NOT the person to help them with math homework, everybody wins. You might say that this is sending them a negative message – that women aren’t good at math, or that it’s ok to give up on something that you find challenging. I say it’s a lesson in embracing both your gifts and limitations. You ask Ray Charles to sing the Star Spangled Banner, not drive you to the 7-11.
My favorite line in the You Tube video is when Chelsea says “You are not making sense, I make sense.” And I am sure in her mind, this is true. What makes sense to you may not make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to Phil why I blow dry my hair straight so I can curl it with a curling iron. It doesn’t make sense to me why he needs to examine the contents of a tissue after he blows his nose in it. And I can say with certainty that using the distance formula to find an equation of the perpendicular bisector of the line segment between points (4,3) and (-2, 5) is never, ever, ever going to make sense to me. EVER. What line? Where’s the line? Where’s negative 2 on this mystical line? Is it underground? Are you walking backward on the line? What makes it negative? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.
My math mantras are: “Why do I need to do this when my IPhone does it for me?” and “Close Enough.” This drives my nerdy engineer husband absolutely bat shit crazy: “Close ENOUGH? There’s no CLOSE ENOUGH in math! It’s EXACT! It’s MATH!”
As evidenced by the You Tube video, certain mathematically inclined
men people derive endless enjoyment out of watching an arithmetically challenged woman person grapple with a math problem especially when that person is his wife. It’s not unlike the amusement one experiences from watching a dog chase its own tail. Phil finds my loose approach to mathematical reasoning both frightening and fascinating:
Phil: “There are 36 shrimps in a pound. You have 1.75 lb. How many do you have?
Jessie: “Maybe like….55? No wait…62!”
“How did you get that?”
“Why, is it right?”
“How did you get it?”
“Well, I figured 36 is a pound, and then 3/4 is not quite 36, so I just added on a bunch more but not quite 36 more.”
“Are you serious?”
“So what’s the answer?”