It's perfect.
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It's a TV dinner.
It's Fuwjax.

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I can’t read. At least, I’ve never been very good at reading, and I really can’t write. I do alright though. I have this little book somewhere, it’s got pictures with words next to them, so I can get by. And I’m pretty good at sounding words out. But if you talk to fast, or use big words, I don’t have a clue what you’re saying.

But honestly, I’m okay with that. I’ll leave the reading and writing to the journalists and the academics. That stuff doesn’t really affect me anyway. It’s not like I need to read or anything. In fact, it makes things a lot easier. I go to a restaurant, and I don’t even have to look at the menu. I just order something I think they’ll have and be done with it. I don’t have to bother with newspapers, and I only look at magazines for the pictures. What’s the big deal about reading anyway?

Kinda makes you sick to your stomach, doesn’t it?

Granted, illiteracy isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but I can’t see that it’s something to be proud of either. If you’re not good at something, get better. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to improve.

You just don’t run across proud illiterates most days. But I bet you run across someone who is mathematically illiterate every day. And chances are good they’re proud of their condition. Or at least don’t care enough to change.

When I taught, I heard “I’m not very good at math” all the time, probably close to every day. I still don’t know what sort of reaction my students expected me to have. Maybe I was supposed to be understanding and sensitive, cut them some slack or excuse their shortcomings. In truth, the only reaction I ever had was the first taste of bile announcing the impending flood of vomit. It is only by the grace of God that my self control usually won out over my disgust.

When you teach college math right after graduation, everyone assumes you’re attracted to your students. Sure some of the girls are cute when the semester starts, but it doesn’t take much whining before the sight of them makes your stomach wretch.

There was one woman, I don’t remember her name, and even if I saw her again, I’m not sure I’d recognize her, but the memory of her is still beautiful to me. She didn’t pick up everything quickly, but she worked hard. She was in my office multiple times a week, and not to kiss up or flirt or chat. She came to my office to work. She didn’t want answers; she wanted understanding. She put up with my impatience, with my bad moods, with my condescension; I think I once or twice even made her cry. But she worked.

I don’t remember what grade she made for the class, and I don’t really care. It’s not about the grade anyway. I can assure you, gentle reader, that she will succeed in ways no one can even dream. Effort like hers does not go unnoticed.

I don’t care if you can “do math”. I don’t care if you can’t. I care that you try. And when you try and fail that you try again. And when you try and succeed, you try something harder. This is the definition of success, not that you run from the challenges set before you, but that you dive headlong into them; not that you sit back on your laurels when you overcome the challenge, but that you voraciously seek a new and greater challenge.

To those students I taught who were unafraid of the challenge of learning math under my instruction, I commend you. It is the art of learning, of bettering one’s self even when the reward is slight, that I hoped you learned to treasure from my class.

To those students of mine who still dread mathematics, it should not surprise you that your memory is not beautiful to me. You hate what I love, despise what I find beautiful, tarnish what I treasure. I tried to fail you, to my disgrace it is unlikely that I succeeded.

On the terribly unlikely chance that this beautiful woman ever stumbles across this page… Thank you. Your memory has been my reward.

Anonymous said on 2004-09-24

Hahahaha. I just had to sit and laugh at this one. I too was part of the great Mike’s math class. It was my first semester of my freshman year and I remember being scared to death on the first day!! (Although it ended up being one of the best classes!) I was in their the semester after the infamous “goat” evaluation, which made for quite a few funny jokes. I also ended up in your office almost every week for help. I even came back a few semester later when I was taking “math for elementary school teachers” to get some more help! My roommate and I still laugh at the grand times in Mike’s class!

Fuwjax said on 2004-07-26

It is that desire to learn… that firm belief that no obstacle is insurmountable… that tiny flame that burns somewhere deep in our minds, in our hearts and in our souls that longs to consume the unknown in a fitful, frightful pursuit of knowledge and understanding… it is that motivation that I hope to have instilled and distilled in my students. I am proud of all of my students’ successes, a word which I will somewhat arbitrarily define as “that state in which you now find yourself.” And I hope success chases you while you chase the truth.

tonkashrinky said on 2004-07-17

reading that just took me back to your classroom. Sitting on the front row, in heldenfelds (or how ever the hell that name was spelled). It was your class, more likely the large amount of hours in your office that made me for the first time appriciate math. i struggled through and barley passed, yet that was the one class i didn’t mind going to. dang that was 4 years ago, i hadn’t thought about that since. Actually it was time in your office that inspired this blog name. Talking about Tonka trucks (with personalized licence plates) and shrinky dinks. well this has all been very random.

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