Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the truth about integers



From the ages of 4- 10, I went to an expensive private school where I was a compulsive over-achiever and held straight A's in every subject. I remember crying hysterically over my first C grade but what the grade was for escapes me. I loved math and at the time I left this school in the middle of fifth grade, I was the fastest timed multiplication test-taker. I could do a hundred problems in less than a minute. I had started on long division and fractions and loved working out perfectly divided solutions with no remainder, however if there were a remainder I would coolly write 23 / 4 = 5 R3 or something along those lines. I had never had difficulty with math and at one point claimed it to be one of my favorite subjects along with science and spelling. But then Christmas Break in the 5th grade happened and I was informed that when school was back in session I would not return to my private school. I would in fact be starting at a public school in North Hollywood but that was really exciting because I could wear pants instead of dresses.
When I showed up to Rio Vista in the middle of fifth grade in the middle of a racially divided playground, wearing pants was not so exciting anymore. Within the first two days of school I got in a fight and was humiliated in front of the entire lunchroom. I was one of two white girls in my class and the other one didn't care the new girl. I learned quickly that it was not cool to be smart at this school and the focus on this school was how tough you were. In class, the kids were just beginning to learn their times table and all other subjects were two years behind what I had been learning just two weeks before arriving. I became bored, unchallenged and anxious of looking too smart, not wanting to show anyone up or seem like a teacher's pet. Somewhere in here, I sunk into an apathetic attitude towards grades and school. I let my grades drop and remember forcing myself not to do homework, just to see if I could get away with it, to see if it mattered, or maybe just to fit in. Sure there were a couple of over achievers in the class and I'm not trying to say these public school kids were lazy. But their priorities were different, not to mention their home lives. A lot of them were first generation American, a lot of them came from single-parent homes, and no one had money. The kids that were over-achievers were crucified on the playground and most of them remained hanging onto the outside while peering in at the rest of us. It was a lonely existence and I didn't want any of it. There was enough desolation at home.
So I gave up for a while. I made a purposeful effort to quit. Then in 7th grade I was sent to Catholic school and they were learning decimals and fractions and word problems and I was lost. Had I stayed at private school and went to Catholic school, I would have surely surpassed what they were learning in the 7th grade at St. Charles. But had I not had a year and a half at Rio Vista I would have gone to Catholic school without knowing how to stand up for myself and without the knowledge and experience of life that none of those Catholic kids had. I am eternally grateful for my time at Rio Vista and consider it one of the best parts of my "education." However, I never truly gained back my love for math. I struggled and was sent to tutors in 7th and 8th grade while spending the summers in between with another tutor and mentor. In high school I received a D in Freshman math and after the threat of summer school became a reality, regretfully I managed to cheat my way through the rest of it.
I am trying to study math for the GRE and for a moment today I got caught up in an actual excitement of a math review. For a second I got back that feeling of being excited and proud and also shocked that I remembered what I was looking at. But just before I got past fractions, my stomach started to turn and I put the study guide away. There is a frustration, an anxiety and fear that I am having trouble facing. I think it may be too late to score this GRE. If anything I'll take the test as a practice. But the real work has just begun-
trying to understand the truth about integers and me.

1 comment:

linzer said...

Math! ugh! don't worry, you just have to do the test, you don't have to do well...even if you're good at math, you're really a writer!