Daily Archives: February 20, 2013

Reading Lives: The Dummies

The Mayfield Library collects series of books to help students who are having difficulties in their courses. One of the most popular is the “For Dummies” series. Some students ask for them by name, and most everyone is familiar with the bright yellow covers. Every possible subject is covered. Here is  just a sample of the ones we have in the library:

  • Word 2010
  • PowerPoint 2010
  • Chess
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Wine
  • Spanish and French
  • Art History
  • Physics
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Every level of math

So the question for our group this week was pretty obvious. What was a subject that always made you feel like a dummy?

Colette:I have to say, sheepishly, that I don’t know much about mathematical concepts.  Pretty much anything to do with math, my brain, and getting a correct answer just don’t seem to jive.  I thought I’d like Algebra, being the most literary of the maths – with its use of letters and all, but moments after an Algebra course is over, I promptly and deftly lose it from my memory.  I’d have done better in math if my instructors would have let me write an essay about why the answer should be 4.  Absolutes are just so, well, unpleasantly absolute.  Working equations doesn’t bring me the sense of joy and symmetry it brings some people; it mostly just sends me cross-eyed to the liquor cabinet.  My Dummies book would definitely have to be Math (minus Geometry) for Dummies.  I can balance my checkbook and figure out how much a pair of pants will cost if it’s 20% off, but that’s about as complicated as it can get before I’m left in the dust. 

 For the record, I’d like to say I think the Dummies series has missed its mark.  Circuitry for Dummies is all well and good, but I think society would benefit much more from more ethereal titles like Effective Communication for Dummies, Loving Well for Dummies, Parenting for Dummies, Peace for Dummies, Serving in the Senate for Dummies and the much needed Acceptance for Dummies.  I’m just saying.

Emily: My answer to this is pretty typical: Math.  Looking back, I realize I wasn’t that terrible at math, at least not at first — I made mostly A’s.  It all goes back to 7th grade when I was moved from Pre-Algebra to “Advanced Math.” It was a traumatic experience to say the least. I remember my teacher calling me forward after class. I wasn’t getting it, she said. Perhaps I’d do better if I moved down a level. I knew I wasn’t doing great, but I wanted to stay in class with my friends. In reality, she probably could have moved me away from the window I stared out of the entire class period, but that would have messed up the alphabetical seating chart — or perhaps I should just own up to being lackluster pre-algebra student.

 Anyhow, in my head, this downgrade meant I was a failure at math and, as a result, I quit learning it. Between seventh grade (when I took the ACT the first time) and senior year, my ACT math score went up one point (maybe two) — I’d managed to learn next to nothing more than what I knew at age 12 (or maybe I was a really good guesser at age 12). I was now certifiably bad at math; whereas, one might have said I’d previously been good at math. Perhaps, I’m just too open to the power of suggestion (the suggestion being that I suck at math). After meeting the minimum requirements for college, I quit taking math my junior year of high school. I continued my downward spiral into math dumminess in college getting my first ‘D’ in a course called “A Liberal Arts Approach to Calculus.”  I knew it was supposed to be the “easy” calculus class, but without any foundation in the subject — and little motivation to seek help outside class — I floundered. Today, I’m still a math dummy. I count on my fingers. I don’t remember the quadratic equation. I don’t know what time Train A will reach Denver. 

Pam: GEOMETRY Scenario: School bus #105:Hometown: Independence, Ky.

Where EVERY single school morning my friend Scott would board bus #105 and then sit next to me and tediously help me with my geometry homework from Mrs. Reed’s class. Clack, clack, clack would go her silver chalk-holder, as she blathered on and on about this theorem and that correlation, and I’m telling you what, it would always be MY hand that went up (do you THINK any ONE of my classmates would actually admit they didn’t catch a word of what she was saying? No, ..”Let’s wait, Pam will ask,” I can just hear them. Years later I found out Mrs. Reed square-danced! Well, who would have thought? Grin…if only she’d have called those theorems out as we all did the Virginia Reel, perhaps I would not have felt like such the dummy……. 

Sally: Algebra.  I liked it, but it was a challenge.  An interesting fact: a neighbor of mine growing up, Mark Ryan, wrote one of the Dummy books about Algebra.  He has a tutoring center in the Chicago area.  He has a gift for explaining math in understandable language.

Jolly Librarian: American Sign Language. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a  group of instructors took an afternoon seminar in Sign Language. I was horrible. I did  manage to master the alphabet and the sign for ‘cookie.’ Other than that, I was a complete disaster, and, unfortunately, I was the only one. I never got the hang of the word order, and the in-class practices were torture. It was the first time I had to admit that I was just a failure at learning something. It was a humbling experience.  (I try to rationalize the experience by saying that it made me a more sympathetic teacher.)