Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Professional Courtesy


I’ve been commissioned to tutor students in math – mostly geometry – for the summer school session.

The principal introduced me to four boys, stating that I, like them, was “middling” in my mathematical ability in high school. The principal does not know my record. I don’t know whether she was attempting to seek a way to bring the students and myself into a sense of rapport via mutual experience or merely finding a manner in which to denigrate me in front of people I’m supposed to hold authority over, but I was not amused.

In this school, geometry is not as far as students go: It’s as far as classes offer. Science is just as bad – chemistry and physics were dropped due to high failing rates, and replaced with a regents-less astronomy course and the bullshit earth science and ‘life science’ courses, which are essentially science without formulas or analysis. The standards are fantastically low, and the students react accordingly: Given four years to do one year’s worth of math and science is laughable.

I took algebra and geometry in middle school. In high school I took trigonometry and calculus. I took AP physics after taking biology, chemistry and regents physics and, in college, took engineering calculus and physics. I work in a math-related field: Computers and IT. I know math. I see no particular reason to lie to the students – because all students in the public school system have highly honed bullshit detectors – and if I did I would not trump up the so-called difficulty of the subject by implying that I had trouble with it.

Moreover, if I were in a management position, I would not undermine the authority of my charges for what can most generously be called a bad joke, especially if only to reinforce the utter contempt and lack of expectations of the students themselves. They are better than that. I am better than that.

They picked up the information quickly enough: A mere lack of attention was the culprit for their being in summer school, and being forced to concentrate on the task at hand alleviated that in short order. I was and can only be shocked at how simple it was to deal with the problem. Tech support problems take longer to diagnose. And if all it took was to set their noses to the grindstones after proving to them how easy it was, why did it take so long? It’s as if they’ve been told math was hard for the sake of being hard.

I certainly know more than a few English teachers – masters degrees and all – who think that of math. Alas.

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