Thursday, July 13, 2006

So, Why Should I Take Geometry?

As was mentioned in Susan Stanley's story on Julie's blog, I met Julie's father in geometry class.

The reason I (the mighty junior) was in the same geometry class as Michael (the lowly sophomore) was that I missed a good deal of the first semester of my sophomore year. I had that tonsillectomy where Kate savaged her father's only pair of dress socks to stuff me a rabbit. I missed school for a couple of colds. And then I got impetigo. Without antibiotic ointment, impetigo takes as much as three weeks to clear up and meanwhile it is so highly contagious that the school would not allow me to attend. I no longer remember how much school I missed altogether, but it was concentrated in the first six or seven weeks of the semester. It didn't make a difference in most classes, because teachers sent my books home and I could keep up. But in geometry, it mattered. I had to drop out of the class and take it my junior year.

I would have never been Maya's Granny, because neither she nor Julie would have existed, if I hadn't come down with impetigo. Not only that, I had a friend from my class, Robert, and Michael had a friend from his class, Jane. Because Michael and I were friends, Robert and I met my dear friend Jane. Jane and Robert got married and had David. So, there are three people who wouldn't have been born if I hadn't had impetigo. You just never know what small thing is going to have what big effect.

My first geometry teacher, who's name I no longer remember (perhaps because I wasn't in his class that long) is memorable to me for two events. One of the memorable events that happened in that class was the day we were learning inverses and obverses for theorems. The teacher, who was sitting on the edge of his desk, asked me for the inverse of a right angle, and out of my mouth popped "a left angle". He laughed so hard that he made a five point landing on the floor, from where he announced, "and now we know why the pun is the lowest form of humor." Ah, so. I can make people laugh by saying smart things!

The other had to do with the fact that I moved around a lot as a kid, and two of the places I had lived before high school were El Paso, Texas and Roswell, New Mexico. Both have a touch of Southern dialect. I had picked it up. The first day of class, the teacher passed out problem sheets and told us to figure them. Now, to me, newly returned to California from the Southwest, figure was a synonym for guess. As in "What are you bringing to the church social, Ida Mae?" "I don't know. I figure maybe potato salad." Not believing that a math teacher could want me to guess the answers to arithmetic, I asked what he meant by figure. And he said, "Reckon." Well, reckon is also a synonym for figure in the South. As in, "Although, I reckon I might bring deviled eggs." More confused than ever, I valiantly tried again, "what do you mean by reckon?" and he answered, "You know, calculate." My gawd! Can you just see it coming? To me, calculate was yet another synonym for figure and reckon and guess. I have to admit, I cheated. I couldn't bring myself to guess at those problems and so I did arithmetic on them. I'll be damned! People can use the same words to mean different things!

And now that I think about it, if science is defining calculate, figure, and reckon as perform precise mathematical operations and Southerners are defining them as "take a wild, improbable guess" it is no wonder that when biologists call it the theory of evolution, Southern Baptists hear, "Your guess is as good as mine."

1 comment:

Gina said...

Well, instead of the "butterfly effect" we have the "Jocelyn effect!"