This week, in addition to all the usual reading material, Son 1 started bringing home simple maths homework. This will be a regular thing from here on, in order to beef up his skills for the SAT deals next May.
This simple, year 2 level maths, has caused me a disproportionate amount of inner turmoil…. If not outright angst.
I’ve always had a difficult time with maths, in that I’m pretty shit at it. Remedial, even.
Don’t get me wrong here – I can just about add, subtract and multiply up to a point. I’m a bit iffy with division… Same with percentages. I hated it in School, and I’ve spent over two decades avoiding the use of it in anger.
I’m okay with the fundamentals (up to a point); I managed to successfully give people the correct change in a number of retail jobs, for example. In fairness, the till does tell you exactly what to do, even down to the words in some cases. When it comes to mental arithetic though, my brain doesn’t work. I can’t process the information – I clam up; the gears stop moving; rational thought staggers to a halt.
Frankly, I blame the school system (and definitely, definitely not me).
EARLY CHILDHOOD TRAUMA
In First School, it was bad enough. I could learn stuff like the times tables “by rote” – which is what you did back then. You’d learn say, the 6 times table and then just recite it when asked, thus demonstrating your proof of knowledge. The problem was, I couldn’t retain it… It was as if, through some stress induced mental block, I’d rent the 6 times table for a few hours.
This was made worse by the practice at the time, where teachers would single out kids at random to answer – apparently simple – maths questions. I’d get asked, “What’s 6 x 7?” and then sort of… crash. The expression would fall from my face, eyes staring into nothingness, as my panic stricken brain searched in vain for an answer. All the while, the rest of the class would be looking on, offering incredible levels of support:
“MISS!” one of the little girls would say. “He cannut FUCKIN’ dee it, the DAFT cunt!! Hahahahahaha!”
I went to a rough First School.
THE HIGH SCHOOL “SET” SYSTEM
Things didn’t particularly improve as time went on. Especially not in High School, which had three “sets”: Top, Middle and Bottom.
I was in bottom set for maths. Not the bottom bottom set though… The one where you’re only required to count how many ducks are in a pond, or pencils in a jar, without the aid of a carer (or soiling yourself). No, I – and I suspect a number of other lost souls – were in the tier above, just shy of the middle set.
For three years, Maths lessons were conducted by a strange gnome like fellow dubbed “Pie Man”. This was not some clever bit of word play on “Pi”, no. This was on account of the fact that someone had once witnessed him eating a pie. FUN FACT: We also had a PE / humanities teacher called “Shampaz”, because – and this is presumably 100% true – someone had once witnessed him wanking off into a bottle of shampoo.
Pie Man was about 5ft tall, ginger haired and bearded, and seemed to be – as best I can recall – on the verge of some sort of chasm of personal despair, his face etched with doom. That’s what I inferred from his expression anyway… He’d certainly drawn the short straw in terms of an audience.
The class I was in was around 75% “knackers” and “fucknuts” – hard men, already on their way to being reincarnations of their fat, racist, homophobic, violent Dads. A couple of years later, when I worked in the local Working Man’s Club, I would go on to serve alcohol to these delightful Father / Son units. I imagine there’s another wave along now… Perhaps even two lots.
Think of them as mini Raoul Moats.
When in school, and not truanting, these fucknuts would normally spend their days:
- Making animalistic shrieking noises
- Using incredibly racist, sexist and staggeringly un-pc language
- Fighting each other
- Organising fights for later
- Beating up homosexuals / perceived homosexuals
- Beating up minorities / perceived minorities
- Masturbating in class
In the main though, they stood in the corridor, excluded from lessons.
FUN FACT 2: There was a craze at one point, among the Knackers, where – once they’d been kicked out of a class – they’d hold their breath long enough to make themselves pass out – or at least pretend to pass out. The lesson would then be disrupted by having to attend to the collapsed thug outside. There was a similar thing with drinking petrol, or lighter fluid, but I forget how that panned out.
As a consequence, every Maths lesson was like a lit fuse – waiting to see which one of the bastards would kick off first. I once witnessed a colossally overweight Neo-Nazi physically attack Pie Man with a chair.
GIRLS IN CLASS
What about the girls, you ask? Well, they were of the heavily made up variety and would gather in small, dense clusters – completely oblivous to the lesson taking place. The most you’d get out of them would be loud, foul mouthed details of the latest fingering (or other sexual congress) they’d engaged in with local – and perhaps recently expelled – ne’er-do-wells and recidivists, who were marginally older versions of the Knackers in class.
Point being – it wasn’t all that conductive an environment to learn maths in.
I spent the lessons making a nominal effort to jot down whatever was on the board, in between fights, arguments and arson attempts. In the main though, I drew pictures of fish – which I got detention for more than once – and tried to avoid being hit with jets of semen or phlegm (whichever was being flung around at the time).
The idea with “upper bottom set”, if I remember correctly, was that with enough hard work, you could claw your way out of shitsville and back into civilised society, i.e. Middle set. I don’t recall that ever happening though… It was one of your glass ceiling deals, or at least a glass folding partition wall.
The same, or largely the same bunch of Knackers were also in French, German, and Science – where they also had access to Bunsen burners and dangerous chemicals.
…I was in TOP set for English though, which probably followed just after. Whilst not quite having the overly precious literally discussions I would later encounter at A level – which I was well and truly out of my depth in – people actually listened and did the work. Or if not, then at least nobody had their jaw broken for looking like a puff.
I duly flunked maths at GCSE, and I’ve spent virtually all of my adult life on the run from it. Like Bruce Banner, only bad at maths.
INCIDENT WITH SON 1’s HOMEWORK
Travel back with me now… Back to the present. A few days ago.
This SAT homework – which parents had been asked on a separate A4 sheet to monitor / correct – was four pages in total, only half of which was rudimentary maths. The rest was English, and involved spotting the difference between statements and exclamations, plus other guff.
The first page of the maths was plain sailing for Son 1 – who, according to the last Parent / Teacher evening is actually pretty good at the old adding and subtracting. It was a case of adding the missing number on a bat’s belly to come out with the answer provided. Easy – no parental involvement required.
The last page, however, presented an immediate hurdle.
For some reason, way too early for year 2 kids in my opinion, the last page involved adding and subtracting amounts separated with a decimal point – like amounts of money, only minus the pound signs. For example: 3.20 + 7. I was immediately put off, confused, and not a little afraid.
“Uuuuuugh…. Have you done stuff with decimals before?”
“Hmm… Well. We’ll crack on and see what happens.”
And then we got to the following question: 8.20 – 11.
“We… Uuuugh. Well, that would be minus 2 point something. £2.80. We can’t be into minus figures already, can we?? That’s mental.”
“I don’t know Dad.”
“Tell you what… We’ll stick a pin in that for now, eh?”
The homework wasn’t in for a few days. I decided to consult with some of the other parents.
And so it came to pass that on consecutive trips to and from school – casually dropped into chit chats with other Mums and the odd Dad – I would ask what the deal was with all the decimal point shit.
Nobody seemed to have a clue what I was on about. That, or they’d passed the homework buck onto their other half. A handful promised to get back to me, Haziq’s Dad included.
The fact that nobody had encountered the same thing started to nag at me, but I managed to keep this hidden from my family.
A couple of days later, Son 1 and I sat down again to have a second crack at this decimalised, nonsensical bastard.
We got through about 7 of them, a couple of which were also minus answers, before my eldest looked up from the page.
“Daaaaa’aaad,” he said, looking at me, concerned.
“It’s the number of the question Dad. See?”
I took a second look at the page as a whole.
He was right. The questions were numbered 1 to 30 – very, very clearly.
The issue, dear reader, was one of “kerning” – or the spacing between individual letters or numbers (characters, they call them).
I’d just taken the text at face value. This rendered question one, which was a nice, straight forward:
13 + 7 = ?
As a more complex and interesting:
1.13 + 7 = ?
You can see the issue. Once I’d had the wool pulled from my eyes by my 7 year old son, I could no longer see the page as anything else.
Yes, it was a bit embarrassing. It also did yet more, sadly irreparable, damage to the already thin layer of respect my son still has for me. You could read it on his face as he returned to the page, and quietly – and very quickly – jotted down correct answers to 30 very easy sums.
I felt ashamed on a personal level, and yet relieved that this son at least isn’t as think as fuck. Pressure on Son 2 though, eh?
In the aftermath of the Decimal Event, Son 1 has taken to “teaching” me simple maths. It’s as heartwarming as it is extremely patronising.
Haziq’s Dad asked me about the decimal thing the other day, to which I gave an extremely dull retelling of the story above. I mean, I missed out the stuff about High School… It seemed overly elaborate.
Anyway… There you go.
You get back to your housework now.
University educated (in media, so nothing useful); former propagandist for Hewlett Packard; now redundant, scrap heaped dole scum / full time mum of two.