Originally created 08/30/98

A class you can count on



School is back in session. The classrooms are full. And math, my old nemesis, is on the prowl.

You never think about math in the summer. It slips your mind while you're on vacation.

But let the school-bell ring and it's back with a vengeance.

There is probably no subject that turns student honors to student horrors quite like math.

As a rule, we Americans hate it.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported a number of educators trying to fix such arithme-phobia.

Their work is cut out for them, the newspaper reported, because, for a variety of reasons many in this country cannot get by basic algebra.

I can relate. Back in the permissive 1970s, my university of choice decided it was cruel and unusual punishment to make freshmen immediately commit to a collegiate major.

This was the era when we were supposed to be "finding ourselves" and many of us, admittedly, could be found having a good time.

Whenever one of my advisers started clearing his or her throat and suggesting it was time "we" declared a major, I quickly changed advisers.

After two years, however, I ran out of options and finally reviewed my choices.

"Are there any majors that don't have a math requirement?" I earnestly asked the counselor.

Such concern was warranted.

Early on, I had registered for a basic math class, which turned out to be Introductory Calculus.

My instructor was a Middle Eastern grad student who spoke English with a thick accent.

I couldn't figure out what he was saying, much less what he was teaching.

After two weeks of trying to comprehend the flurry of chalk formulas with which he daily decorated the blackboard, I went back to the registrar and formally withdrew. (No harm, no foul.)

Two quarters later, I tried again.

It was the same course, only this time my instructor was a young Oriental gentleman who began his first class by apologizing for his limited English skills. (Or at least, I think that's what he said.)

I spent my class time sitting in the front row with one ear cocked like the RCA dog, trying to understand what was going on.

It took me two days to get the message the good Lord was trying to send me: Stay away from calculus.

I related this to my newest adviser. She thumbed through her book, smiled, lifted her head and said, "How about journalism?"

"Really?" I asked. "How do they get away with that?"

She explained that the journalism school accepted an obscure philosophy course as a math substitute. (It was, in fact, Introductory Logic.)

To my way of thinking, using philosophy in place of math seemed completely illogical, so naturally I signed up.

I can't say my life has been any the lesser for not taking calculus, but it has certainly been richer for taking up journalism.

You don't always need calculus to count your blessings.