Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To be beaten is hellish. To be ignored is worse

There is unforgettable beauty in learning new words of wisdom, immediately after they've been caned into your hands. Yes, caned. As in you standing with your hands stretched out. And your tutor demonstrating how a stick of wood can break the sound barrier as it reaches the palm of your hand. Practical physics 101: Free with every caning.


This particular acquisition of wisdom is specially memorable. My Math tutor Mr. Riffat Pervaiz gave it to me in Lahore on 07-07-77. The caning at 4:01 pm and the words --that he most graciously inscribed in my journal-- at 4:16 pm. The root cause of this incident was Math. Or rather my inability to do it fast enough and accurate enough that day.

I could go endlessly about math, caning and wisdom, but right now I just want to mention a disaster that I successfully foiled at home.

My younger daughter (now in eighth grade) showed me her math book. She knows my affinity for math. Anyway, the first thought that came to mind was that why is an eighth grader lugging a book heavier than a college calculus book? The second thought that came to mind was: why so few exercises, and yet so much verbiage?

Isn't it true that:
  • If you want to learn swimming, get in the pool. Practice. Later on you can read a book on it.
  • If you want to learn writing, start writing. Practice. Later you can read books on improving the writing.
  • If you want to learn riding, get on a horse and start riding. Practice. Later on you can read books on it.
To me, math comes under the same category. That is, practice first, read about it later. Math, specially Algebra, cannot be taught by explanation as the primary vehicle. I think 80-20 would be a good rule to apply. 80% of students' time should go into practicing sample problems. 20% of their time should go into listening to explanations. But this may be old fashioned. Things are different today.

To my kids, I am opinionated. Maybe someone who doesn't get it. Someone who should not talk about this stuff at all. Specially with their teachers. They love their teachers. When we talk math, it ends up in big arguments, two brilliant angry kids, a pissed of wife who --from her demeanor-- wants to cane the math wisdom out of me. Every intellectual [math] discussion turns into a disaster within two and a half minutes.

Anyway, like I was saying, I thwarted this one before it happened. I just kept quiet.

Sir Riffat Pervaiz said that someday I would remember him and thank him for for not ignoring me.

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