A confession about my relationship with math

I have a confession. I never learned how to do math in school. On the surface this sounds like a similar claim most Americans might make. We all hate math. But I didn’t even do take the class. I was moved into special-ed for math in the 3rd grade. I hated being isolated from my peers and treated differently. Obviously, they picked up on it and used this as fuel for further bullying.

It didn’t take long before I discovered a flaw in our education system. While in grade school, and this includes junior high, you can fail three subjects before they hold you back. I did fine in history/social studies, I had fun in art and excelled in band/music class. I even succeeded fairly well in science class and of course back then I got straight A’s in English.

I discovered if I could fail to classes and still move head I just gave up on Math and resisted in PE so there I was, my two F’s on my report card year after year. This sorta worked all through elementary school but of course it became more difficult once I made it to high school. Naturally going into 9th grade having skipped getting a proper education in math leading up to that put me in a bind. Since I had literally given up I did the bare minimum, often guessing answers and not even doing the homework most of the time. I was decent enough at recognizing patterns I could trick the standardized tests into scoring me high enough to pass but this was before those metrics were required for advancing.

Once I was in 9th grade I took a course called general math. I struggled. Ended the first semester with a D-, and I killed myself to get that. I finished the school year with yet another math F on my record. I had given up. By this point my fear of math had developed into full blown phobia. No, more like a deep seeded loathing for the stuff. Needless to say, the state I was in at the time, Nevada, changed the requirements to graduate beginning with my graduating class. Instead of having 2 math credits you had to basically take four years of the stuff to get a diploma.

This was the last straw for me, the breaking point. I made my decision I would drop out and just get my GED. Sure, I had teachers, guidance counselors and other adults begging me to stay the course to no avail. I shifted my high school trajectory. I dropped all core classes, replacing them with classes I found more useful like publications, home-ec, band, choir, music appreciation, art, creative writing, etc. All the fun classes. And I did it. I dropped out got a GED and thought I had put that vile math behind me. I knew how to punch a calculator and how to work a cash register. I figured this was all I needed.

Fast forward over ten years. I am in college trying to earn a degree in broadcasting. Low and behold they want me to take algebra! I was dead set against it. Fortunately, they let me take a class called “math for liberal arts” which is code for the everyday math artists use not the tricky stuff smarter people than myself use.

Now, ten years after that first semester I have lived 39 years on this rock going out of my way to learn or use any math beyond simple addition and subtraction, which to be honest I kinda suck at. I am currently finding myself in job that requires I work with numbers quite frequently. But, I am afraid my lack of math skills is going to catch up to me someday. Here I am, weeks away from 39 years old and to this day I have the math education of a 3rd grader at the standard taught in 1993. I am not going to lie there are times I break down and cry how negligent I was over not learning something so many take for granted. It’s easy to make fun of someone who lacks math skills but sometimes, for one reason or another, a person just fails. When the system fails to pick that kid up off the ground, wipe of their tears and encourage them to try harder that’s when the system failed.  I often feel like Penny did on the Big Bang Theory when she broke into tears the episode Sheldon tried to teach her basic physics. I know I am not stupid and will bitch-slap anyone who says I am. That doesn’t change the reality that I handicapped myself at an early age, now as an adult I am paying the price for that. The moral of the story is this. If you have a child that is struggling in math don’t make their life harder by hounding them. Ask them what makes it so scary for them and get them help. I started out saying my story is unique, but I fear it might be more common than we realize.

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Stephanie Bri

A transgender writer who also does podcasts and videos.