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Personal Stories

Struggling With a World of Numbers

By: James Kences

I am forty-six years of age--born at the very beginning of the Space Age in 1958. During my infancy American educators became preoccupied with the crucial role mathematics and science would play in national survival as the Cold War entered the phase ushered in by the launching of Sputnik.

As fate would have it, my father was among that group of young educators. The Massachusetts town where I spent my childhood possessed a number of enterprises that were, by the standards of the early 1960s, high-tech. The families in town who were involved in the development of these new technologies wanted to have their children placed in a classroom for the Gifted. In Second Grade I was placed with those children.

My father was a biology instructor prior to becoming an administrator. There were many science books on our shelves, and when I became old enough to 'look at the pictures' I literally immersed myself in those books. In the early grades, science still does not seem very mathematical, only wondrous.

When I began to experience serious problems with math, I was removed from the Gifted class and placed in a lower level. From that point on my father was determined that I become proficient in arithmetic. He personally supervised my classes and homework. Unfortunately, not only did his efforts fail, gradually I came to dread school.

Advancing into high-school the situation only grew worse. I could neither perform well in any of the math classes or expect to take any of the science classes. My father was unrelenting in his demands. Night after night he advised me on the school exercises. I accepted his assumption that I was destined for academic failure.

With the passage of time I realized he was wrong. Despite my father's strong conviction that a modern American cannot survive without a knowledge of math, I can live, possessed with only rudimentary abilities. Despite his conviction that real science was science based in math, I continue to be interested in science, and visualize what is described without converting it into numbers. Finally, despite his conviction that learning required a schoolroom and teachers, I was forced by necessity to find solace in the library, educating myself at my own pace.

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