Saturday, July 31, 2010

What If?

I came across an inspiring blog post, " The Dysletic Atheist" in which the writer, jon_poson26, recounts  how as a child he struggled with a learning disability but was finally rescued by a retired teacher who took an interest in his plight and became his mentor. Interestingly, the author's handicap was confined to reading but did not interfere with his math and science capabilities.

I can relate to this story, but with a twist.  In grade and high school I did well in reading and writing but sucked at mathematics (What! A Jew who can't do math?).  In high school I limped through linear algebra and crashed and burned in geometry.  Based on my overall family background, this deficit is puzzling.  Some of my relatives  hold Ph.D.'s in math and physics.  Others are—or  were (now retired)—in other professions that also require high numeracy and logic skills. But if talent for math were a family inheritance, I was left out of the will.

However,  in high school I did well enough in other courses to be recommended  for an English honors course which I successfully completed.  I vividly remember being the only student in that class that semester (or ever?) who due to my math deficiency  was simultaneously enrolled in a" math-lite" remedial physical science course  rather than chemistry or physics, both of which require an advanced algebra background.  In other words, among my peers there was usually a correlation between math and science skills on one hand and reading and writing proficiency on the other.  In that regard I was an oddball and hence can fully appreciate the somewhat parallel although opposite predicament experienced by the writer of  "Dyslectic Atheist".  Looking back I wonder why a school guidance counselor didn't pick up on this anomaly.  After all I was too young and trusting of authority to question the matter on my own.

When I started college,  I was required to take a remedial math course which I managed to pass with a "C", and after several attempts I finally passed the examination that would have enabled me to enroll in a college algebra course. However, I wound up not finishing college (the reason that I dropped out was not related to academic performance)  and so never got around to taking that subject.

As jon_poson26's story shows,  sometimes all it takes is a certain chemistry—a connection—with a teacher to impart a feeling of hope and  turn things around. If an educator is not only  learned in his field but can also instill enthusiasm for the subject matter and a sense of self confidence in his or her students, that is the mark of  a true professional.  Such was the teacher who had enough faith in my abilities  to get me into an honors course as well as the one who taught that class itself and likewise offered encouragement.

Reflecting further on  "The Dysletic Atheist" has made me wonder what direction my own  life might otherwise have taken had I also been fortunate enough to get a dedicated teacher or mentor to help me overcome my difficulties with mathematics. No doubt It would have improved my feelings of self-worth which were already low as well.  In fact I dare say it was the lack of self-confidence that also kept me in the thrall of God-belief for so many years.  In both cases at the time I didn't catch on how the logic of complicated higher math formulas and the reasoning behind atheism have one thing in common:  If you take the time to analyze them, they both add up. 

I'm a senior citizen now, and one thing on my "bucket list" is to complete my degree.  If I do so, the very first class that I will take will be a college math course, whether or not I'm fortunate enough to do so in a class room setting under the tutelage of a skilled instructor, or via the Internet instead.  I may even try for credits by taking equivalency test such as CLEP.

Whichever of these options I select, I'll need a great deal of review and preparation. But now that my mind and spirit are no longer chained by  some of my previous problems, especially the repression and "ill-logic" of theism, I believe that I  can better focus on the task at hand and have a shot at achieving my no longer impossible dream.