I have to admit that I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my brain for as long as I can remember. Our relationship began to have trouble when I was in the third grade. Evidently, I was unable to keep up with the class when it came to math, and I was dispatched, to my utter dismay and humiliation, to a mobile classroom on the outskirts of the school for an hour each day. While the rest of my class stayed put, I would have to scoop up my flagrantly different math text-book, exit the class with my cheeks burning, walk the long distance to the Special Ed building, all the while feeling stupid, and meet a sugary sweet teacher who would talk to me like I was not only mathematically challenged, but also having trouble understanding the English language. The whole experience was completely appalling to me, and I decided that I’d work extra hard on my own so I could get out of the Special Education Math Class.
To me, my circumstances have always been something that I felt I could change, if I could just figure out a plan of action.
Evidently, I have always been a control freak.. :-)
My plan was to get better at math immediately. Back then, though, there were no home computers, much less the World Wide Web, so I was a tiny bit unsure about how to go about becoming a mathematical genius overnight. Luckily, my mother had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica‘s, and I began my quest right there. Everyday after school, I would begin my research into a quick, sure way to improve my brain’s performance. Often, I would get distracted from my mission, running across something entirely unhelpful, but way more interesting.
And in time, I found a little excerpt from an old research study that stated how the brain worked in general, and had come to the conclusion that people who write with their left hands tended to have better mathematical abilities. Ah Ha! I thought. All I needed to do, in my own estimation, was to teach myself to write with my left hand. This, I surmised, would “wake up” the right side of my brain, and I’d be a mathematical wiz…Good-bye, Special Ed Math. Hello, Popularity and Wealth. Actually, I didn’t really care about the popularity and wealth thing so much..just getting out of that humiliating class.
I had this gut feeling that I’d just stumbled on to a little known cure, and that soon, I’d leave my classmates in my mathematical dust…
So, I did exactly that. I practiced writing with my left hand for weeks, then months, and then years. To this day, I will occasionally write with it just to make sure I still can. I have so blended my left hand/right hand capabilities that I made myself somewhat ambidextrous. :-)
But did it help my math abilities? I did catch up in math during my fourth grade year, and then later, in high school, I was able to hold my own, and to get good grades. I scored higher than average in math on my SAT’s, though I always find English grammar, literature, and the like easier to learn and understand, and those scores were higher than my math scores. I ended up working most of my life in accounting.
I have no idea if my little quest tricked my brain or not. Maybe, because I believed that it would make me smarter in math, it did. All I know is that I’ve learned that the brain is exceedingly magnificent and complicated, and we can train it to do what we want. Too cool!
One teacher that I admired and respected once told me that I was unusually logical, always breaking everything down to its simplest forms, which was actually a mathematical skill, and he thought it was unlikely that I was ever behind in math, but instead just wasn’t being taught in a method that I could learn from. Back then, in the 1970’s, the multiplication tables were taught by memorization, and he theorized that this method would not have been something I could have kept up with. A bunch of numbers memorized for reasons I couldn’t explain would not have been easy for me to retain. Instead, had the teachers shown me what exactly was actually being done when you multiply 2 by 2, I would have kept up just fine.
I remember thinking that I liked that teacher’s theory about my brain, but a tiny part of me wants to believe that in elementary school, I figured out a way to trick my brain into being smarter in math. :-)