I used to joke about the theory of reincarnation, saying, “There’s no way I’m coming back and going through adolescence and high school again!” My gullet begins to spasm as I look back from the perspective of an “older” man—one who eventually had the chance to screw up his own life to his heart’s content—the very thought of again being squeezed, prodded and molded along guidelines twisted into questionable requirements by overinflated bureaucrats, to then find myself extruded and thrust into a barely-functioning society with no more preparation for the real world than a guppy.
The Teen Years
Being a teenager is about blossoming into your own person. At the same time, you’re doing everything you can to fit in with your peers. Be yourself. At the same time, be like everyone else. And deal with acne. And hormones. Awkward growth spurts. Noticing the opposite sex in a completely different way. Trying to be cool. Trying to talk with the opposite sex. Learning that you can’t do both of those at the same time. Facial hair. Body hair! Nocturnal emissions. (When I was a kid, we didn’t have the internet so we couldn’t clandestinely research, as they do today in the 6th grade, information about hormonal surges, morphological changes and wife swapping. Consequently some pubescent bodily functions came as a surprise.)
Who the hell wants to go through all that again?!
An Eternity Within One Algebra Class
If you want to speak of lifetimes, I already spent a hundred of them in freshman algebra. Maybe more! The time in each class was interminable for me. Our teacher called roll on the first day of class, then stood at an overhead projector and said, “Ok. Let’s solve for X.” He began writing formulas on that clear surface and never moved nor said a word that I understood for the remainder of the school year. Not once did he explain why he was searching for X and why I would ever need or want to find it. In a monotone voice, he quickly squiggled numbers and letters on a clear sheet of plastic, then rolled the plastic up a little and then grease-penciled more symbols onto the space.
What’s the Point?!
Now, you may understand the reason for algebra, but no one ever told me. My teacher just started scribbling down symbols and God knows what, but never explained why I would want to find X or how I could apply it in the real world; how it would benefit me; my reason for needing it and, more to my point, the reason I had to sit through this class! It was nothing but meaningless letters and numbers and symbols and grease pencil and, on sporadic occasions, some Windex sprayed onto the surface to help erase past lessons just as I felt my life was being wiped away by some cosmic paper towel.
Algebra comes from the Arabic words Al-jebr, meaning a “reunion of broken parts.” I didn’t care about reuniting broken parts! I just wanted my life back! All I can remember from that class is the top of his bald head, looking down at that projector, unintelligible grease-pencil squiggles and, more than anything, the clock at which I stared. It was in that classroom that I witnessed for the first time, the second hand of a clock actually freeze in place for long moments, seemingly just to taunt me. I swear that it sometimes moved backwards to demonstrate the relativity of time and how mine was being sucked away from me.
And then, after I got a D in the class (which to me was an amazing accomplishment!), I got to take it again as a sophomore! Don’t they see I have no aptitude for this? I suck at this so why not let me take something else?! But I went to the class—because I had to—hoping that the teacher would explain to me how it would apply in my life. Nope. He was much more of a human being than the freshman teacher; a nice guy, to be sure. He actually talked to students and didn’t stare at an overhead projector the entire year. But the class didn’t and has never served me. I believe that a2+b2=c2, only because those smarter than I insist so. And I’m happy that it does! But it still means nothing to me.
I must have gotten a C in that class because my junior year found me in a Geometry class. I actually grasped a little there. My teacher explained that if I wanted to find the area of a circle, there was a formula I could use. πr2. Pi (3.14159) times the radius of the circle, that had been multiplied by itself. Cool! They gave me a new symbol (π) and told me the number to which it equated and how I could use it. I can do that! Later, of course, I got lost on Isosceles and his triangle. Why did I care about equal sides and angles? I accepted his theorem, but neither had nor was given a clue as to how I’d put it to practical use in my life. Still, I did well in Geometry class for a week or two.
This is not my Skill Set
My point is that I displayed a painfully obvious lack of ability in advanced mathematics. At least it was obvious and more than painful to me. What purpose could it possibly serve anyone to make me repeat these courses when I didn’t get it the first time and didn’t care? But the law of the land said I must study math, so I was forced to go to class. With my astronomical scores on the golf course, higher and more advanced math may have helped with calculating my score, but that’s a separate issue.
I guess my lament to you is: Why was I forced to sit and sit again, wasting my time on a subject with which I had no interest or aptitude? Why not find my strengths and offer classes in that? Then again, how would Goofing Off 101 look on a report card? Snoozing 201?
There was this one test we took in either 10th or 11th grade to ostensibly provide us insight into what type of career we may find comparable to our interests and personality. They had a zillion or so questions. Do you like this, that, or the other? Choose one. The creators of the test first gave the questions to people in the post-high school world; real professionals. They then compiled the answers by profession. If your answers matched or were similar to the amalgamation of the answers of the, say, doctors who participated in the sample, then the test makers determined you had something in common with doctors and should, therefore, consider that as a career.
The three suggestions returned to me from that test as possible careers to consider were: Podiatrist, Fire-spotter and Air Force Academy Cadet.
Believers in reincarnation say that, when you come to Earth again in another body, the veil of who you really are is lowered and you have no recollection of yourself from your higher perspective and you don’t remember your previous lives. If this is the case, I’m going to ask them to lower the veil and then hit me in the head with a bat, just to be sure.