Saturday, February 17, 2007


Hey Brax,
You know that I am really terrible at math. Sometimes when I say that, people act like I have some sort of confidence problem, or like I've been socialized in an anti-feminist way to believe I can't do math. That is an understandable assumption. I mean, Talking Barbie says "Math is hard, let's go shopping." It is clear that girls are sent a message that math is not going to be their forte, and that affects their performance.


I can't do math, and that is, I believe, quite unrelated to Talking Barbie. For one thing, I read numbers backwards pretty frequently. (Thanks a bunch, Ohio public schools, for not picking up on that in my 13 years in your care. And for telling my mom that I just wasn't trying when she asked if I maybe had a learning disability. That really made my life better.) For another, no amount of practice could ever make me get it.

I think I would have math problems even if I lived in a Marge-Piercy-style eutopia where there was no sex-specific pronoun. Still, the girls-can't-do-math thing did affect me, and I was recently thinking about one of the ways in which that manifests. Ahem.

They always used football and baseball examples in math class. For example: Jose gains four yards in the first quarter but loses 6 in the third. How many yards does Jose gain total? What? What does it mean to gain a yard? I HAVE NO IDEA what it means to gain a yard. Or lose a yard. And RBI? It is baseball, I guess, but I don't even know if a high number is better than a low number. And maybe that's one of the spots where math class gets pretty sexist. Boys, I have learned from the Husband, are inundated with sports from birth. Not all boys are into sports, of course, and there are certainly girls who are sports fanatics. Still, girls are less likely than boys to know what it means to gain a yard. A sports example is more likely to speak to a boy and feel practical to a boy.

Trust me, it really sucked when the subject I had the most trouble with was put into a context that was totally foreign to me.

Do you know what would make at least as much (if not more) sense as sports for math examples? Knitting. Here is a fact: knitters throughout history have been using a lot of algebra. Knitting uses so much math. Knitting designers have to be math rock stars. Knitting is even making waves in the sort of geometry that people with big, big brains play with in ivory towers. And the assumption that knitting is a context that most people understand is no sillier than the assumption that most people understand sports. Lots and lots of people knit. It's just that most of them are women, and it's not competitive, so the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival doesn't preempt prime time TV.

I was thinking about this the other day when I had to have Jess resize a sweater for me because I can't do algebra. Jess is good at math, as are a lot of my knitting friends. Sometimes at Knit Purl Hurl, they all sit there and talk about knitting math, and it blows my mind a little. It is really nice of them to help me with knitting math sos I can just be a flitty fly by night artsy knitter all the time. I do wish I could do it myself; as it is I would probably screw it up and end up with a sweater sized for Hagrid, and as we know from book 1, he can knit his own sweaters.

Whoo! That was sort of a stressful blog. I'd better relax with a nice, cozy Pabst Blue Ribbon.



elliebell said...

I am bad at math too, so don't feel bad...see you Tuesday

Karen said...

It's so true. Ross Local Schools are awesome. Remember when your 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Thomas was really mean to you and always made an example of you in class, until she found out you were a Guenther? Pshaw.