Per-fection’s my selection, and I will select
And if it’s not [per-fect] I will perfect!
I was really good at math when I was little. Seriously. It seemed to make a lot of sense to me. There was balance and coherence and logic. Nice combination. I took algebra in the 7th grade and I remember sitting by the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo with my step-dad doing my math homework on more occasions than I can count (which I realize does little to solidify my standing as a legit mathematician, but should only speak to the fact that we spent a lot of time doing math homework at the zoo.) The experience was oddly compatible and effective. I also remember my math teacher telling me I would use algebra all the time in my life and thinking he was full of shit. But he was right.
My mathematical problem commenced on my return to Petaluma Junior High School in the 8th grade (and I should say math was not my only problem in that hellish year, but it is notable to be sure.) PJHS was all proud that they had just introduced Algebra for the advanced 8th grade students. There was no other available option for me, they would not let me take a class at the high school – I probably would not have wanted to anyhow – and there was no such thing as independent study or something. So I was placed in, let’s call him “Ted Hairy”‘s 8th grade Algebra class. The most memorable thing about Ted Hairy is that he loved to tell everyone how he was from “Hairy”, Indiana and his family name was “Hairy” and wasn’t that so cool? Oh! And that the Jackson’s were from there too, so somehow that gave the jackass some street cred. Ted Hairy was a completely shitty teacher and I have no idea how he got the assignment to teach the best math students at PJHS that year. [Actually, now with 14 years of experience in education, I do have an idea, but it is definitely material for another blog… err… rant.] Somehow, Ted found out that I had already taken the exact same course the year before (same text book even) and man, that pissed him off. He hassled me every freaking day in that class, which made being the new kid even better… as if we are not all at our total best when we are 12.
Here is an example of a day in my life in Ted Hairy’s class:
TH: “Football… blah blah blah… Indiana… blah blah blah…. homework? Blah blah blah…”
CLASS: Heh heh heh… Mr. Hairy! Ha ha ha… So funny!
A: *silence* [flipping through textbook absently.]
TH: So, Amy, not interested in what is happening in class today, eh? Too boring for you since you ‘already took the class’??
TH: Whatcha doin’ back there young lady? You have something better to do than pay attention in class?
A: No. I am just looking at the book.
TH: Skipping ahead are you? We must be really boring… [laughs and looks around to get his minions in on it, they acquiesce… haha.]
TH: So, if you know this all so well, why don’t you stand up here and teach us all about the quadratic equation, then, huh?
A: We are not even at that chapter yet.
TH: Well, that shouldn’t matter to you! You are an expert.
You get the idea.
Another one of his claims to fame was that he threw erasers at people, apparently it was funny (?) and somehow endearing (?) I thought it was fucking stupid. I thought he was fucking stupid too though, and here began the woeful demise of my mathematical career. My downfall was helped along by several more years of abysmal math experiences. As a freshman in a Geometry class full of juniors and seniors, I was publicly accused of cheating on a test off of a junior who was a complete stoner who never came to class and on whom I had a huge crush and had in fact been cheating off of me. Eventually, I took the collapse of my mathematical promise into my own hands. Like ditching 60% of my senior Calculus class, but by then I was a goner anyhow (the best part of that class was my four friends who decided to spend the year trying to prove that parallel lines could meet in space.) Our teacher was a dear man who had been a pro boxer in the 1920s. I had the class in 1988. Do the math.
I effectively avoided math from there on out with the exception of doing my taxes, balancing my checkbook and doing random road calculations while driving long distances.
Lately I have developed a more balanced (and Ted Hairy-free) take on math. An appreciation, even. Seriously. I have spent a lot of time recently discussing the absolute certainty (or not) of mathematics with my IB students who are working on Theory of Knowledge essays and all turn to math and science for their arguments in the absolute. I love that it is so not absolute. (Take that Ted Hairy.) Just like everything, perception matters in math. And perfection is still a totally qualitative concept. Stuff like this is cool and the compatibilities in patterns found in math and elsewhere really satisfy my latent OCD tendencies in a good way. I even like geometry since I got away from “Proofs” and discovered fractals. Fractals are the shit. (See below.)
And considering my OCD nature, perfect numbers are just so ideal. A number that is equal to the sum of it’s divisors? Fabulous. That fits just too perfectly for words. I like the fact that it is “not known” if any odd perfect numbers exist – what an admission for all you absolutists. I also love that perfect numbers were studied by Pythagoras and his followers, more for their mystical properties than for their number theoretic properties. You can have your prime numbers Rainman. Give me perfection.
Loves it. And the best part of all of this is the imperfection in perfection. Categorically divine.
“They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”
~ Winston Churchill