The New Math

  • I liked the sciences pretty much.  I liked biology quite a bit.  I saw a TV show about a guy who traveled all over checking out the health of the world’s bat population.  I thought that was a pretty sputnickgood job.  But my career in the sciences was screwed up by the Sputnik.  The Reds sent this up in 1957, an unmanned satellite that in pictures looked out as big as a basketball.  The Reds had got a jump on us.  We were behind in the technoscience race. And you’d have thought the sky was falling.

MSomebody got the bright idea that the reason the Reds had got the jump lay with the backwardness of America’s school children.  So the experts got together and decided to cook up a whole new science curriculum based, no doubt, on the most advanced principles.  This new curriculum arrived at my school, not in the form of books, but copied manuscripts tacked together with humongous staples.

The first time I got one of these books was in geometry.  We had a pretty good math teacher, but that whole year of geometry I never knew what was going on because the teacher didn’t know how to teach that stuff.  To scare us into trying, he told us our final grade for the course would be based on an exam the government was going to give us.  I got 28 right out of a 100 and was sure I had failed my first class.  But it turned out 28 right was pretty high and I got an A- for not understanding a damn thing the whole year.

Next year in chemistry was even worse.  We had another of those Xeroxed books and the teacher couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  All I remember about that class was staring at the periodic table above the teacher’s head.  At least in geometry I had learned about triangles and obtuse and acute angles and such, but chemistry I got nothing out of.  That’s too bad because now I understand, at least remotely, that the bridge between the animate and the inanimate, the living and deadness, consists of blind biochemical reactions and reductions.  I mean it could have been interesting.

 And my senior year trigonometry class—well, it didn’t have one of those new updated books.  We just had an idiot as a teacher.  We had maybe 15 people in that class; and again I struggled along trying my best to understand, but the teacher only seemed interested in telling us about what he had done the last weekend.

I guess even back then the world was getting smaller because something the Reds did fucked up my possible career in the sciences.  So when it came to college, I went with my strengths, with what I thought I could do well at, and became an English major, not having the slightest idea what that was, and did not become, like a number of people at my high school, an engineer, a sensible thing for a working class student to do.

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