Deep Thoughts

Math Geeks Are Mean

The Math Geeks are a tough crowd. Several weeks ago I submitted my post Beyonce and I Fail Division to a couple of sites that were publishing articles about mathematics. I thought the mathematicians would enjoy a comical diversion from the rigors of string theory as well as a peek into the world of sixth grade Everyday Mathematics homework.

It turns out that the readers of these particular math sites may be skilled at equations, but they don’t appreciate them being treated as a source of humor.

The Math Geeks were dejected that I wasn’t overjoyed about the opportunity to perform long division at ten o’clock at night with my surly sixth-grade son. A software engineer at Google who posted the articles said about mine:

I was very surprised – and depressed – when I received that as a submission …. Not just that an adult had a problem with something as simple as basic arithmetic, like long division, but that they thought that it was so benign, so unremarkable that the weren’t even embarassed to advertise the fact in public, and to actually submit it to a collection of math articles.

(ellipses mine, grammar and “spelling” his)

His was a mild-mannered comment compared with what followed.

Professor Jonathan Vos Post read my list of other mathematical gymnastics that will face Finn in the future, such as multiplying negative numbers by other negative numbers and dividing fractions, concluded that I am unable to perform these feats myself, and labeled me an “innumerate adult.”

I was content to let this go unchallenged because I don’t walk around bragging on my math skills, but the professor continued, writing an excruciating diatribe in which he congratulated himself on his teaching methods, referenced Sputnik and Pearl Harbor, then drew a connection between my column and his assertion that “the USA is losing the new space race, and the economic race, and the outsourcing race, and the respect of the world.”

The professor declared: “This is a crisis. It goes beyond an adult acting as if arithmetic, which my son mastered by age 7, was incomprehensible black magic, and posting that on a blog thread. But the two are linked.”

(emphasis mine, vacillating verb tenses his)

At first I thought the professor was giving me too much credit. After all, I’m just a forty-year-old mom of three, blogging with 75% of my brain while the other 25% (or one fourth) (or .25) hopes that the rattle in my minivan is an aberration, not a death knell.

But then I read up on the Professor and his credentials and discovered he’s not full of shit, or if he is, it’s the type of shit I know nothing about.

That’s when I realized, “Well, hell’s bells! It’s time someone appreciated the major impact of my blog, not only in My Tiny Kingdom, but on the world as a whole.”

Now that I’ve read what the professor had to say about me, I confess I’m a little disappointed in those of you who comment here regularly. Sure, you alerted me when my boys were eating too much tuna and you let me know that Alabama doesn’t have a monopoly on live bait vending machines. You laughed with us at our potty-training strategy. And several of you commented on that very post to explain the rule for moving decimals before dividing them.

But none of you have so much as hinted that my columns are linked to the weakness in the housing market, the lack of quality programming on television, or Pokemon.

You have been underestimating me, at your peril.

**********************

A year ago in My Tiny Kingdom (not my best mothering moment): Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Whose Laundry System Has Been Screwed With

50 Comments

  • joyce

    LOL Well, math geeks don’t see humor in math…and especially in a lack of math knowledge. Horrors! I’m married to a math geek…that’s how I adapted and made up for my math deficiencies! And I feel it’s my duty to make sure he retains his sense of humor. Being married to me gives him plenty of opportunities to laugh at least. At least he is able to write better than your critics.

  • PofA

    That “ubergeek” may have written 30 computer languages, have a Ph.D in Molecular Cybernetics, and held Secret clearance through 1991, but you have to draw some satisfaction from seeing Tunisia sandwiched between Mayfield, Kentucky and Montgomery, Alabama as readers of your blog. At least we now know who’s responsible for the USA “losing the new space race, and the economic race, and the outsourcing race, and the respect of the world”. Well done, Anne Glamore.

    Here’s wishing you never stop! This blog is one of my daily stops, hoping you’ve edged in a couple extra posts per week.

  • Kelly

    I had no idea you were sapping our brain power and destroying our national fiber! Shame on you, Anne Glamore. Shame.

    I’m all for math and education and encouraging smart kids who can do wacky things like multiply negative numbers (seriously, I just felt several thousand brain cells commit suicide at the very thought). But those Math Geeks need to settle the heck down. Sheesh.

  • Christy

    The Professor is an ass, if I do say so myself.

    Also, I’m SO glad that I have someone else to blame world hunger on. I just thought it was pesky overpopulation and poverty.

    Damn you, Anne Glamore!

  • Sara

    Yeah, my husband likes to complain that I’m an “innumerate adult” but always has me proofread anything he writes that might possibly be read by another human being.
    We all have our weaknesses.

  • Maggie

    UN.BE.LIEV.ABLE.

    What a small, sad world they seem to be living in. Not just the singular focus on one (boring) topic, and not just the biting judgment, but the utter lack of humor – THAT would be worst of all.

    I feel sorry for those guys.

  • merry

    I, for one, am glad that you treat math skills as uninteresting and insignificant at least long enough to write a blog post because I would be bored to tears reading any blogs written by the software engineer or the professor. You, on the other hand, always make me laugh, and that is doing a great service to society. So there.

  • Caution

    While we are at it, you must be responsible for my weight gain, messy house,and the political problems in Detroit. Of course, the professor would probably delight in the fact that *idiots* like me love your blog.

  • VHMom

    Wow! And here I was thinking that I was to blame for every wrong thing in this world (ask my family!)! How nice (for me) that it’s you! Thanks!

  • alala

    Wow. Here I thought you were just making my job a bit easier and more fun, but you were actually BRINGING WESTERN CIVILIZATION TO ITS KNEES. That is awesome. Go you!

    Seriously, his kid “mastered” (i.e. knew everything there is to know about) arithmetic at seven? And that’s held up as some kind of normal?

  • Cassie

    Well I’ll be darn, we must be living in a fairy tale world or something, oh wait, that’s the math geeks living in their own demented/imagined world of their own. We live in the real world, it’s time they join us, and see what real living is like!

  • Buf

    Just a comment from a math geek (after 4 years of engineering school, I can definitely do some math). However, unlike alot of other math geeks, I understand that it’s not for everyone…lol Everyone should be able to do the basics, but if you don’t use it regularly (and not alot of people do) you definitely get a little rusty.

    Anne, I really enjoy your blog and don’t think that you are responsible for the US’s failure in the space race, etc. 😛 Being a math geek, I do applaud your nerve in submitting your post to the math sites, humor is not big in that world.

    I consider myself a literate engineer but please excuse any grammatical (sp?) errors in this post 😉 After rereading my post scrap that literate engineer part…oh I need help 😀

  • Susu

    After working until about 9:30 last night with my 7th grader on pre-algebra (yes, dividing fractions and multiplying negative numbers), my mind cannot even form the words to write a comment correctly.

    By the way, do your boys (or the booger-goblin) swipe bloody nose-stuff in the strangest places, and then you find the dried up gook on the wall above their beds, or on a sofa cushion, or possibly on the back of the driver’s seat??? I’m just about sick of it, so I guess I’ll just pull out that old bulb suction thingy from their baby days and use it on them, maybe in the carpool line. I sure don’t know what the appeal is to them. I know that it’s certainly not my grown-up husband, as he doesn’t have boogers at all!

  • Karin

    Wow, I agree. These math geeks see everything as mathematical formulas. I wonder how many foreign languages this professor has mastered. Can he sing, or draw a cartoon? I bet he would see numbers floating in your “beef balls in wine sauce”.Unfortunately, when you make yourself a public figure, there are always people who want to drag you down. Happy Halloween, don’t forget to count how many pieces of candy the kids get, then divide them by three, no, five….!

  • Jess

    I spend many a night with Thing 1 trying to figure out what the hell kind of math they are trying to teach him. I normally throw my hands up in defeat and have DH work with him. The math they are doing in 6th grade is what I was doing in High School. Heaven help us all.

  • Lynda

    It wasn’t also you who “bumped” the rear wing of my car and broke the wing mirror was it? I’m just asking because if I can blame you and your pervasive influence I won’t have to tell my husband it might have been me……..

  • Amy

    Wha-ho math geeks are a humorless uptight bunch aren’t they? I’d completely horrify them, doing statistics as I do all the time at work with push-button stat software (that they likely developed so busy people like me could conveniently forget how to do it “for real”).

    I hate math. I like your blog and think you’re brilliant. They can stick that in their eisen value and multiply it.

  • Jesse

    Well, gosh, if I’d have known that’s what you wanted to hear…

    You’re the sole cause for global warming, the war in Iraq, terrorism through the world, the fires in California, AIDS, and the strife in Darfur…but only because your math jokes just aren’t funny.

    Okies, I’ll stop being sarcastic now. *grin* I hate math, and I think you’re funny, and I think I’m now going to go play pool with the cue stuck up their…*ah-hem* yeah…*grin*

  • Laura

    Some people are good at long division.
    Others grasp such grammatical concepts as pronoun-antecedent agreement and the subjunctive mood.
    We grammar types tend to recognize our arithmetic inadequacies, but apparently these mathematicians don’t notice when they trip over the written language. Ignorance=bliss.

  • K

    I believe it could be easily proven that the USA is losing the space race and the respect of the world, et al, because we are bursting at the seams with insufferable egomaniac know-it-alls as the professor so aptly displays.

  • Heather

    I’ll tell you a secret…..my special form of h*ll (if I believed in the place) would be me dying and spending an eternity with people who can’t laugh at themselves. Oh the punishment!

    Usually I find people who can’t laugh at themselves are secretly afraid of something.

    Go Tiny Kingdom! Not only have you affected the housing market, the economy and probably caused the lead painted toys in China but you have now skeered some math nerds too! You’re my hero!

  • Adam Haun

    As one of the people who reads that blog, I think there were a few things that led to your post being take perhaps more seriously than it should have:

    1. Humorous or no, “math is hard” is a real stereotype that has real and serious effects on learning. It’s kind of a touchy issue on a blog whose major focuses are teaching new things and debunking mathematical fraud.

    2. Most of the comments didn’t sound like they were laughing. Personally, I found the comments far more disturbing than the post.

    3. None of us had read your blog, so we didn’t know the context of your writing. Without context, it’s hard to tell where the line between humor and seriousness is.

    So, sorry about that (for my part, at least — I take no responsibility for the overzealous professor). Now that I get it, I see what you were trying to do.

    I’m kinda disturbed the comments above, though. Math geeks are just *people*. We laugh, we cry, we have other interests. Sure, some math geeks might have trouble diagramming a sentence, but so do lots of people. (I play first-person shooters on the internet, don’t even get me *started* on bad grammar.) I don’t get where this hostility is coming from.

    (Oh, and for the record, I think left-to-right addition is stupid. Left-to-right subtraction might be cool, though.)

  • alala

    Adam: Laugh and cry all you want, but if you (well, not you-you, anyone in general) want to criticize people for not knowing as much about one subject as you do, you should expect to receive the same treatment.

  • Jennifer

    Um? Seriously? These comments are as interesting as your post. I’m shocked that the math people (hate to use the word geeks!) didn’t catch the humor.

  • Susu

    Dearest Adam,

    I do my subtraction from left to right – it challenges my 40ish brain from time to time, and if I get the correct answer, I know that I’ve not lost all of my brain cells!!

  • Amy

    Just wait till 7th grade. That’s when you get to do prime numbers, least common multiples and greatest common factors. Or is it greatest common multiples and least common factors. I can’t ever remember. After many stormy nights at my house my 7th grade son brought his math grade up to a “B” average – at which point I no longer find it necessary to check homework and make him do extra problems for practice ’cause his grade was below a “B”!

    And this is the same child that in 4th grade wrote an award winning essay about what a great mom I am – except when it comes to long division!

  • KLee

    To the math fans out there, I can see how this post, taken out of context, would come across as “math is hard!” I also understand that you are feeling righteously indignant that someone has cast aspersions on your particular chosen field, but come on! This professor seems to have made a snap decision about Anne and her family based on a piece of humorous writing.

    Yes, there is the stigma that math is HARD for a lot of students, because it *IS HARD* for some of us. For others, it’s writing that is their cross to bear. Some people have no affinity for sports, or history. We all have things that we both like, and that we are good at.

    Rather than accuse a woman (who was merely trying to point out how much math has changed and progressed since her own school days) for basically causing the downfall of civilized society as we know it, the good professor should have just let the comment go.

    I’m not making sweeping statements about “math geeks” because I’m quite sure that there are all sorts of people out there who are fond of math. I would not presume to think that everyone who liked math was geeky, just as the Professor should not have assumed that Anne needs to take off her shoes to count to twenty. She’s a bright, literate, funny, well-educated woman. She just was making a humorous observation, and thought that maybe people who had more experience with math than she did might find it humorous as well. I am sorry to hear that they did not.

    Anne, I’m quite sure that you are not the sole cause of global warming and the initial flare source of unrest in the Middle East. Not solely. I’m sure Bill helped a little. And the boys may have contributed some to the global warming with Doorknob!

  • Laura

    I just can’t imagine Charlie Epps (Numb3rs?) being this humorless and Charle Epps, he of the hot hair and nifty metaphors, is the face of math as I like to imagine it today. Of course, my kids are barely into addition (though my 1st grader is dabbling in multiplication which scares the pee out of me) so I have the luxury of imagining Charlie explaining all things math to me. Over a glass of wine. With no kids around. And me 15 pounds thinner. Oooh! And with someone else cooking dinner! And cleaning up!!!!

    Pardon me. I think I need some alone time.

  • Adam Haun

    alala,

    You’re right, and if we were talking about knowing how transistors work or something like that, you’d have a good point. But this isn’t esoterica, it’s arithmetic. If everyone isn’t supposed to learn it, why bother teaching it in elementary school at all?

  • Karin

    I think the point in this entire conversation was that math has to be learned. However, if we never use long division etc. in our daily lives how in the world are we supposed to remember it 30 years later when our kids are learning it? We are paying higher taxes here in the Tiny K. to send our kids to “good” schools so that they learn it there.

  • lauren

    Wow, Anne are you amazed at the responses you’ve gotten on this post!? Crazy!
    I just wanted to say I’d love to hear how Halloween went at the Glamore house (especially the Mac Daddy costume!)

  • Adam Haun

    Karin,

    Exactly. Parents don’t have the resources they need to help out. Over on the other blog I suggested that math textbooks for kids come with parent guides, which might help a bit.

  • Karin

    Adam, thanks,I read your suggestion on the other blog. Many schools have academic skills teachers and math helpers available for children who are struggling.

  • Alyce

    This is all so silly. I find it amusing, and terribly, terribly sad, that these guys think it is OK to ridicule you for having trouble helping your son with math. And as gently as your readers have done it, their volleys attempting to ridicule their lack of basic English/grammar skills.

    Blaming you for losing the space race? Perhaps we should blame them for global warming? The obesity epidemic? Paris Hilton? We have GOT to find someone to blame for her.

    I was going to direct another comment to Adam, but I fear it would be taken as hostile and dismissed out of hand. Parent homework guides are an excellent idea. But I wonder why the learning isn’t being done in the classroom? Could we address that first rather than offer a panacea?

    Aren’t you a little embarrassed that you are a mere lawyer, and not someone who is smart and stuff? You think you can get a para to balance your checkbook for you and don’t have to think for yourself? Oh wait. That doesn’t require long division. Perhaps you will be able to sort it out on your own. /snark

  • Alyce

    That should read:

    And as gently as your readers have done it, their volleys attempting to ridicule the math geeks’ lack of basic English/grammar skills are spot on.

  • K

    I’d say a proverbial can-o-worms is opened between math “lovers” vs. math Not-so-much-love. Its good that there’s a place people can vent their feelings – you’re doing service as a therapist! And creating laughter! Keep up the good work. For the record – Math is right up there with spiders in things that terrify me. I’m hedging on going back-to-school to finish my degree now that my kids are grown because I’m afraid I couldn’t pass the math courses! Just reading my daughters college homework makes my hair turn gray.

  • Adam Haun

    K,

    Question for you (and anyone else who’s scared of math): what would it takes to help you overcome your fear?

  • PicMomma

    Math Geeks… ugh… thank God my best friend is one because I’m going to have a use for him here soon enough… I’ve decided that this 27 year old, SAHM of two needs to get a college degree…

    I’m dyslexic, so math is very much a terrifying subject for me. I already know that the community college I’ll be enrolling at will work with me, but it’s going to take tons of tutoring to get me up to the lowest lever of math class that they offer…

    It’s going to be humiliating… 🙁

    Math… Does a brain good…