I feel super dumb right now, and I don’t know what to do with this feeling other than to 1. Broadcast it in public and 2. Come up with a plan to deal with it.
Why do I feel dumb? Because I’ve been taking math placement tests, and apparently I need to redo stuff I supposedly learned in fifth grade.
Is this an after-effect of COVID-19? Maybe?
Or is it more like all the other people around my age who are trying to help their kids do their math homework, only to discover they don’t teach it the way we learned it in the Eighties?
Either way, it’s basically like this. Either I sit down and shut up and start re-learning how to use decimals, or I give up on taking the GRE.
One way to look at it is that at least grade-school math should be somewhat easy. I can get math games with cute animals and fun sound effects. As far as I could tell, none of that sort of thing is available for adult-style things, like filling out more complicated tax forms for the first time or forming a corporation.
Another way to look at it is that I have spent the last several years forcing myself to take on the worst, most obnoxious challenges I could come up with, and that this is just the last one on the list.
What have been the hardest things for you to learn to do in your life?
For me they were learning to drive, getting over my fear of public speaking, and learning to take a punch in Krav Maga. I did all those things. The first one made me cry myself into a sick headache, the second one made me think I was going to faint, and the third one was, well, kinda awesome.
Maybe what is different there is that I found it humiliating to be so bad at driving, humiliating to be rendered so overwrought by the simple act of standing behind a lectern - yet martial arts made me feel brave and powerful.
(After, that is, I hit my head on the floor trying to do sit-ups).
This is just another one of those things that I do. I supposedly like to start from a place of abject uselessness and gradually work my way up to a level of basic competence. I can look back at all my hard work and confirm that it works, that grinding away at something will eventually get you somewhere.
More importantly, I can look at my new-found skill and think, I’ll never be as bad at this as when I started, ever again.
Why math, though? Or, rather, arithmetic? Why would I do this to myself??
What’s particularly rough about this is that I work with astrophysicists and aerospace engineers. Our shipping clerks and security guards are probably demonstrably better at basic math than I am today.
The other rough thing is that I’m a card-carrying Mensan. It doesn’t even seem to fit.
How does that even happen? Like my husband, I’m unusually gifted in one area while pretty average at another. For him, math is the big kid on teeter-totter, and spelling is the little kid about to get slammed onto the ground. For me, it’s more of the reverse. I can live-translate in two languages on the same afternoon, but I need total silence before I can calculate a tip.
Something weird about all this is that I am good with money, budgets, and estimating how much I’m spending at the store. It remains a mystery to me. Maybe I can find a way to financialize every math problem?
If I had to choose between being “good with money” and being “good at math,” I’d definitely pick the former, but perhaps that is a false choice and it’s possible to become equally good at both.
Anyway, here I am, facing my own inadequacies and frustration and embarrassment. About to step into the space of humility, for my own good. The way I do every few years.
How am I doing it?
I poked around for a few days, looking at various websites and apps, considering paper workbooks. I decided that I wanted an app that could track my progress and perhaps help point me to areas where I needed more focus, rather than a stack of workbooks that would not correct or even notice my many errors.
I looked at games, and what I found were games for really tiny kids, focusing on addition and subtraction. I was hoping for something like that touch-typing game that kills zombies while you build your typing speed. If you want an idea for an app to build, something that gamifies math from the earliest levels to the highest could potentially do well. Maybe help some junior math whiz learn pre-calc in her high chair or whatever.
I compared the various education apps I already have on my phone.
The app I chose was Khan Academy. You can start out with preschool math, if you want to, and take a test to see if you’re already done with that level.
This is where I was when I discovered that the skills I stalled out at in my earlier placement test are not 7th grade math, but 5th. Are kids getting smarter, or have I been getting dumber?
This is all a moot point, because the point is to develop and reinforce a growth mindset. WE CAN LEARN NEW THINGS! It doesn’t matter how bad I am at something today, if I’m willing to apply myself and keep learning.
My goal is to pass calculus, something I never did in high school. For that to happen, assuming I was a senior, I need to get through eight academic years. How long is it going to take me? My husband says I can blast through it in a few weeks. I know better, and I know that thinking that way is demotivating for me. I don’t want to feel competitive, I just want to make sure I nail this material so I never have to go over it again.
These are the levels:
Arithmetic, basic geometry, pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, statistics, pre-calculus, and then apparently there is more than one kind of calculus??
All right, I’ve just shown the world my dirty laundry. Now to you. Is there anything you’ve always felt a little inadequate about that you might be able to study? If you could magically give yourself one new skill, what would it be?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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