Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TNS Tuesday - Teaching an old dog what she should've learned in 7th grade

Okay see, I kinda forgot about TNS Tuesday (for anyone new here TNS stands for The New School which is the private democratic school my kids attend, you can read more about it here.) However, since I myself am struggling through getting educated, 'The New School' way, I thought I'd talk a little about ME today... ya, like I've never done that before.

I'm 43 yrs. old and I'm learning ALGEBRA. What's that I hear you say, "What Margie, you don't know Algebra?" Surely you learned that in Jr. High?" Well ya, I did... And I could expound on the shortcomings of my Southern California education but that might not be entirely fair. Jr. high was not only a time in my life when trying hard NOT to be the biggest dork on campus was at the forefront of my conscience, but also trying to survive my domineering, physically and emotionally abusive step-mother was also of main concern... Math class therefore sat in that part of my brain waaaay in the back, much like that rear facing seat in our circa 1970 station wagon.

So now I hear you saying, "So why Algebra, why now?" Have I mentioned that TNS is a school deeply rooted in philosophy? Every day, TNS students are challenged to think about themselves and their effect on others. Enter last Christmas... Holidays can be especially trying for me emotionally. Everywhere I look, television, magazines, movies, I'm inundated with images of the 'perfect' family gathering. I tend to manage this well in my home, with my immediate family. Doing all of the 'Martha Stewarty' things I expect of myself. Unfortunately though, I tend to reflect on the past and how the family I grew up in, scattered in the wind like dandelion seeds. For reasons I won't go into here, this past Christmas was particularly trying. My daughter witnessed me completely break down and bawl my eyes out. When the last deflated balloon was tossed out after my pity party, my daughter wisely recommended I talk with my friend Mel, who also happens to be the founder of TNS.

In January I met with Mel and poured out my life and frustrations over my emotional upbringing. I'm a person deeply rooted in emotions. I cry at the most nonsensical things. For instance, name a Disney movie, any one of 'em... I've cried. I walked into a 'Pottery Barn' last week and the smell in the air was so wonderfully, deliciously, aromatic... I cried (just a little though, I didn't make a scene or anything... My daughter was with me and she would've died of embarrassment.) And it doesn't take much to get me choked up when I read your blog posts... Tell me about your children and how much they mean to you... Tell me about a sick friend... Tell me about a thoughtful deed from your husband... That's right, I cry.

So due to all this emotional crap I've got bottled up inside, I can make myself pretty sick sometimes... Not to mention stuck! Unable to make informative decisions, unable to think clearly about things. So Mel suggested I do MATH.... Yep, MATH... For me, it's just like that other 4 letter word I let slip when I'm incredibly angry or frustrated. "You see", Mel tells me, "When one does math, one must use the side of the brain rooted in logic. When one thinks logically about things emotions move to the back burner and no longer completely influence our actions." So you see, by learning math I'm hoping to deal with emotional issues more appropriately.

Here's the rub... When I study math, I get emotional... I can't help it, though I'm trying to work through it. When I look at an Algebra problem I don't understand, I have to fight a very real demon inside my head that tells me repeatedly, "You're too stupid, that's why you don't understand it, you'll never understand it, why are you doing this to yourself, you're wasting your time, give it up, you'll never learn this stuff." It plays like a recording OVER and OVER again and I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it now. Mel knows I'm fighting this beast known as self-doubt and despite my set-backs when the beast gets the better of me, she keeps me fighting. We stop mid-way through a lesson and go back to a equation I'm familiar with and build from there. Sometimes it seems we keep going through the same methods over and over again but Mel is always prepared to show me a different way of thinking about the problem. "Patience of a saint!" I say. She says, "No, I know it's in you, I know you comprehend it all, it's just that evil voice of doubt that's holding you back."

So here I am, a 43 yr. old Algebra student. Not doing math because I'm planning to enter some competition or earn a degree even. I'm just working through it so I can better understand myself. To become more grounded in how I think about things, everyday things, discussions with my kids, with my husband even... Interactions that allow me to think things through logically and not lead with an emotional outburst. I think it's working. I think Life, for me, doesn't feel wrought with the sharp steel edges of emotion like it used to. Now I'm more apt to stand back, think carefully before I speak. I'm also getting better at wrestling that dragon in my head, that evil naysayer who tells me I can't. That guy who didn't think I could ever solve a problem like this:

Dr. Johnson took one hour to drive from her home to Mercy Hospital and back. The return drive took 8 minutes less than the trip to the hospital. How long did it take her each way?

but now I can.
To some it may be a trivial thing, to me, it's nothing short of amazing.

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Blogger Katy said...

Wow, what an interesting way to approach the emotional side of your brain being, um, stronger? than the logical side. (I'm not putting it very well, I hope you understand what I mean!)

Come to think of it I used to be a crier. Cried when I was mad, sad, glad...(Dr. Seuss anyone?). After returning to school and taking LOTS of math plus other brain stimulating logical type classes I feel much more 'evened out' for lack of a better way of putting it. I always attributed it to getting older and wiser but I think that your friend has something there with working your brain in a new way to help balance things out.

Hmmm, lots of food for thought - thanks! And good luck with the algebra. I really enjoyed it because it was either right or wrong. No gray area at all. :-)

2:31 PM, July 29, 2008  
Blogger Salvation Amy said...

Woulda shoulda coulda. I'm so proud of you. This made me cry a little bit. And I know you can do it.

3:41 PM, July 29, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

i applaud you for seeking personal growth. i can see the reasoning in it. allow me to say this though. i'm not an overly emotional person and math makes me emotional too (algebra especially because it makes no sense to me at all). i have a mathemetician friend who enlightened me a couple of years ago. we were discussing some higher level stuff and i was trying desperately to keep up then i rephrased a concept in a way that made sens to me and he said "aha! you are a geometric thinker! that's why it doesn't make sense when i speak algebraically." in just a few minutes i finally felt free to understand math in the way my brain works, which is much more geometry oriented. it's still math, just a different way of expressing it. so if algebra feels like it is kicking your butt it could be that you need things presented in a more geometric way.

ok, i know this is getting long but as a really simple example when i learned multiplication tables, simply learning the numerical facts (algebraic thought) i could only make sense of it if i thought of 4x5 as being 4 piles of 5 (geometric way of thinking).

for what it's worth.

4:19 PM, July 29, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Katy, I LOVE Dr. Seuss... and yes, mad, sad, glad, I think the math has helped tone that down a bit... Also, the NO gray area, that's so true... Math in and of itself is completely non-emotional. :-)

Amy, your faith in me makes ME cry a little bit... You're the GREATEST!

Lime, I think I'm going to mention your theory to Mel. I do tend to have to visualize the problems I work on. That's why Mel has me working on word problems now. However, you know those tests they gave in school, where they show an odd shaped box and then 3 different shaped boxes unfolded and then ask which unfolded box, folds into the one pictured, Well, I ALWAYS sucked at that and I think that's visual geometry?

And hey, thanks for cheering me on.

Seriously gals, the cheering really helps keep that demon on the run so my appreciation for your comments runs deeper than you can imagine.

6:00 PM, July 29, 2008  
Blogger Sheri said...

Dad teaches whole brain thinking/creative problem solving, and how to effectively use all of your brain. He's been "evaluating" me since I was in 9th grade . . . and VERY emotional/social. After high school and college, I'm much better about using all parts of my brain, but when I get stressed, I immediately go to the "emotional" part that I'm more comfortable with! When I get mad/upset/happy . . . I still cry!

1:59 PM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Hi Sheri, Thanks for stopping by and I guess what your saying is I can always look forward to the tears ey?

Where does your dad teach? Sounds very interesting.

3:01 PM, July 30, 2008  
Anonymous Christy said...

I can relate--I always hated math and I even remember the point when it all really started to go downhill (fractions)but things at home were crazy & I moved around A LOT so I never got help. I always said I would learn algebra (and alll things math) when I got older, but haven't taken the leap yet.

8:15 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Christy, I SOoooooo wish you lived close by... Not only for the obvious reasons, such as we'd have the grandest time swapping stories and sharing cups of coffee but also because we could take Algebra TOGETHER! It wouldn't be so scary for either of us if it was a mutual exercise in enlightenment... One which we could laugh or cry our way through.

So, it's quite simple... You must move east asap.

9:34 AM, July 31, 2008  

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