If it were possible to do such a thing I would issue a restraining order against maths
Algebra would have to stay 50 metres away from me at all times, Isosceles and Pythagoras would have ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) keeping them indoors at night and long division would only be allowed to visit on the grounds that it brought its own calculator with it. Negative numbers would just be put in front of a firing squad with no last requests.
Maths and I have never got along. Despite all my best efforts I have never memorised my times-tables and I still have to count on my fingers for anything more complicated than six times nine equals forty-two (think about it…and go read The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books if you still don’t get it)
Thus when I was at school – which, as we have already established, was a long, long time ago – my hands became all to familiar with visits from Mr Ruler and his family as teacher after teacher slapped my knuckles for being so stupid.
We had different coloured wall-charts every month with different sets of times-tables written on in huge marker-pen. The idea of this was that we would gaze at them inbetween reciting the tables by rote and it would somehow wedge into our brains. No SmartBoards and interactive web-page answers from Google for us in those days - the home computer was still an iceage away (infact in my next school there was a lad whose dad worked for IBM - practically promoting the lad to God overnight) - back then the nearest we came to an Interactive Board was using a piece of chalk and a rubber.
But the problem for me has always been that it is not sufficient for me to learn that 7x8 = 56 (I had to get a calculator out for this, but would normally subtract 7 twice from 70 on my fingers) – I have to understand the why of why 7x8 = 56 – and get very frustrated with stuff like algebra, fractions and negative numbers where they keep changing the rules dependant on what you are doing to the numbers.
This was something that my teachers, so ancient that they remembered when Everest was a molehill, could not understand – and so they assumed that it was my inability to learn.
Now I know that when you are young everyone over 20 seems ancient, but I had one teacher at junior school who had taught my mother and uncle years previously. He was of the Old-School Child-Hating Mortar-Board And Cape wearing teacher that you see in history books and always assume to be fictional. I won’t name him here, but he had a famous rugby playing son and was an Evil Bastard with a capital E, B and every other letter in both words. Quite frankly: burning in hell would be a let off as far as I’m concerned.
So there was this one time when I got a sum wrong – just one of many really – but this one particularly sticks in my memory. It was a hot day and a dark classroom with rows of single desks – the old kind with inkwells. He called my surname and summoned me to stand at the front.
Without even looking at me he barked, ‘How many pennies in a pound you stupid boy?’
Now I was pretty sure that it was 100 – but I was scared witless and I didn’t want to look like a know-it-all in front of the class, so in a quavering, uncertain voice I said ‘ninety-nine?’
Still refusing to look at me he called out “tell him the answer’ to the class and they called the answer I had known all along.
Cut ahead some years and you may begin to see why I still had a fear of maths – to the point where every time I heard a maths question part of my brain would shut down. I’m not saying that one incident made all the difference, but it didn’t help – I came out of school with a borderline pass at the lowest level you can enter.
And many people, some of my friends included, remain very bitter about this and spend the rest of their lives complaining that if someone had only spent a bit more time with them it would make all the difference.
And whilst I can be very pessimistic and spend many hours in the company of that inner voice saying "you can't do this" (as most of us do) I also know better – I know that if you spend your whole life stuck in the past and moaning about the fact that you never achieved anything then you only have yourself to blame – so I decided to set out to prove them wrong.
So about 2 years ago I grabbed Maths in a headlock and dragged it kicking and screaming into evening classes. The teacher still couldn’t understand why I couldn’t easily grasp the things that were crystal clear to her, but this time I was old enough and stubborn enough to know that it was her failure as a teacher and not my failure as a student – so bloody well made her explain it again and again and again until I could put it into a language that I could understand.
I came out with the maximum pass I could get in the exam. Maths and I will never be friends, but I’ve got it worried now and on the run!
And the moral of the story is: never let anyone tell you that you are stupid and never be afraid to keep on asking when you don’t understand something. Sometimes knowledge is given, sometimes it seems to arrive by osmosis and sometimes it has to be bludgeoned into your brain - but the best kind of knowledge, the kind you really appreciate - is the kind that you earn for yourself.