Friday, July 02, 2010

This just doesn't add up

I originally wrote this post for the LA Moms Blog, part of the Silicon Valley Moms blog collective that consisted of fourteen sites from around the country and Canada. Sadly, the site will be closing this month – I'm going to miss the network of amazing writers I had the privilege of working with there. I've decided to republish my posts from the site here on my personal blog as a way of preserving them once they take the site down permanently, and also because that's one less original blog post I have to write. Some may call that lazy, cheap and repetitive, but I just call it resourceful. And maybe lazy.

As I child, I puzzled my teachers.  My inability to add six columns of numbers in my head or multiply fractions in nanoseconds confounded them.  Why couldn’t I figure out the circumference of all the circles in the diagram and calculate how many of them it would take to fill up the Pentagon? What could be so hard about averaging the number of miles Janie and Mike traveled in a day in their Chrysler that got 50 miles per gallon?

After all, they assumed, I’m Asian.  I should be good at math.

I hated this stereotype.  Why couldn’t it be something more glamorous, like assuming that I could wield a killer Samurai sword, or even something with some ick-factor, like thinking that I ate sushi made from live fish every night for dinner. That would at least have given me some mystique on the playground.  I could see it now, packing away a goldfish in my lunchbox when my parents weren’t looking and then later sitting down in the cafeteria, a small crowd gathered around me as I carefully laid out small sheets of seaweed on my cardboard tray. They’d cover their eyes as I pretended to slurp the little critter down with my carton of milk. 

Even worse, I couldn’t live up to this pathetic stereotype.  Other kids would try to copy off my paper, thinking that surely my Asian ancestry would help me multiply those fractions correctly and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d just copied the answers off of Andrew, the kid next to me picking his nose and scraping scabs off his arm.  I think I even brought an abacus to school once just so I wouldn’t disappoint them.  I bent over the board and my fingers furiously flew over the beads as the teacher recited numbers.  When I had supposedly come up with the answer, I banged a gong, bowed deeply and burned some incense at my desk.

Really, it wasn’t until college that a math teacher finally realized that I wasn’t a math whiz and actually didn’t have dreams of working for IBM and becoming the world’s greatest accountant. “You don’t say?  You’re not good at math?  This isn’t some cagey act to get out of joining the Calculus Team?  Now let me get this straight – you really did think 'square root' was some sort of gardening term?”

It’s hard to say whether my two daughters will have an equally heavy cross to bear.  Though bi-racial, they look more Asian than anything else and I’m already suspicious of the motives of their teachers and counselors.  After twice declining, my older daughter was moved up to an algebra class instead of the pre-algebra course that we had requested and that most seventh graders are enrolled in.  I made an appointment with the counselor, armed with my ammo in case any hint of the Asian Math Myth reared it’s ugly head, and was surprised when he informed me that she had been moved into an advanced class because she had scored high on a pre-entry exam. 

I was totally taken aback.  Seriously?  You mean she actually did figure out what x + y was equal to?

Well, there goes another myth out the window.  Because everyone knows – this family, we suck at math.

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