April 25, 2010

What I Have in Common with Benjamin Franklin

This article, with edits, was published in the Warrick Courier on Friday, April 23, 2010

Numbers just do me in.

When God formed the dual sides of my brain, He decreed that one side be 95% poetry, writing, talking, more poetry, more writing, and more talking. That part has held me in good stead for a career in sales and marketing.

The remaining 5 per cent of my brain (representing spatial reasoning and checkbook balancing) exists for the rudimentary functions of dialing a telephone and adding 1-digit numbers. I struggle with using a calculator and remembering numerical passwords. I did not fare well in Algebra class. Though I can remember exactly how my Aunt Ruth’s house looked on Christmas Day 1965, down to the color of the linens, I often forget names, or miss them by a letter or so.

Sometimes in anger people say, “Exactly what is your problem?”

Completely by accident, I recently discovered what my problem is. An acquaintance casually mentioned a disorder after I made a joke about my travails in calling Bingo at a local senior citizens center.

I share this syndrome with famous people like Benjamin Franklin.
The patriot who discovered electricity had the same academic deficit that I do, mathematics. James Franklin sent his son to school early and by age eight Ben was reading everything and excelling at all but one subject: math. In fact, Ben bombed math and quit school forever.

Ben and I share something called dyscalculia, or simply stated math dyslexia.

According to the web site, dyscalculia.org, an individual with dyscalculia may have accelerated language skills, poetic and creative ability, and a good visual memory. This person may also have inconsistent results in simple mathematics, poor athletic coordination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions, and difficulty keeping score during games. This person often loses track of whose turn it is during games, like cards and board games.

The DSM-IV, the guidebook for behavioral illnesses and disorders, lists as Mathematics Disorders under the codes for disorders affecting learning.

Wow! This does explain a lot. Now I have a great excuse to refuse to play euchre with my family (never seemed to catch on, anyhow.)

Easy to spot numerically challenged people at any social function. We hide from those good at math and science who are discussing the theory of relativity, chemical chains, and the Hadron Collider. Nevertheless, we know just when to toss out that quote by the Bard, tying some obscure Elizabethan phrase into the conversation.

Which begs the age-old party question, “Which of Leonardo da Vinci’s skills would you eliminate, the mathematics and science or the art?”

This philosophical query makes for a provocative discussion, or for many liberal arts majors, something to ask the next person in line at the unemployment office.

My math problems started in elementary school. President John F. Kennedy decided schools should focus on math and science, “so we can put a man on the moon by the end of this decade.” That was a good thing, and we all celebrate Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface in July 1969.

I started first grade with “old math” and by the middle of second grade, new math burned past me like a Saturn V rocket to a galaxy, far, far away.

Science classes throughout my academic career were easy, as long as I steered away from those using higher math functions. I even managed to take a graduate level statistics class (with tutoring) and get a B, almost a miracle. Visualizing statistical principles used in real life helped me get through the required class and get my master’s degree.

I’ll be witty and offer compelling conversation at your next dinner party, just don’t ask me to figure out the tip.