Posted tagged ‘arithmetic’

“Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual worker.”

March 24, 2016

We’re back to dreary and cold. I had put away my flannels only to pull them out this morning. I’m even wearing socks. I spent a couple of hours earlier with my neighbor, the one who became a citizen. We just chat, my way for her to learn better conversational English. She is still having trouble with has and have. I don’t speak any Portuguese beyond please and thank you so I am quite amazed with her grasp of English, a language with weird rules and odd spellings.

I remember workbooks from elementary school. We had one for arithmetic and one for English.  My most vivid memory of a math page was the one on coins. It had a line up of a reasonable facsimile of each coin. I had to figure which coins and how many I needed for something like 35 cents. The answer had to be the smallest amount of coins. A quarter and a dime would get me a check; three dimes and a nickel would merit an X. Dollars were self-evident and didn’t appear in my workbook. We’d do a page or two during the lesson, and sometimes had to finish at home.

The English workbook was filled with things like contractions, subject-verb agreement, singular and plural words and verb tenses. There were pages filled with sentences which had one blank. You had to choose between he or him, she or her and all the rest of the pronouns. I’ve come to believe that many people were either sick at home or sleeping in class and subsequently missed that particular lesson. TV dialogue is rife with errors. I hear things like, give the book to him and I or to her and I, and it makes me cringe. I’ve been told that’s the way people talk now so I should accept it, but what’s wrong is wrong as far as I’m concerned.

I think music and language are similar. If someone plays or sings a piece of music off-key, people don’t find that entertaining. They cringe. They don’t say that’s the way people sing now. I wish language was given the same respect.

I find language beautiful. The right words strung together can fill you with love or longing. They can make you laugh or cry. They have the power to hurt, to cut. Our memories are images described in words.

I accept new words and I know old ones disappear from lack of use. Language is fluid, but the form doesn’t change. A name is a noun. An action word is a verb. The object of the preposition is objective case. It’s him, not he. It’s me, not I. That’s all I’m asking.

“Mathematics was hard, dull work. Geography pleased me more. For dancing I was quite enthusiastic.”

February 26, 2012

Today is winter. The dump was freezing and the wind felt Arctic. I swear the people in the car beside me were speaking Russian. If records were being kept, the fastest dump runs in history would be today’s.

Last night the wind howled and the house shook. I was glad the new palm tree was nailed in places to the deck or it would have gone flying, a bit like the cow and the rowboat in The Wizard of Oz cyclone. All I did was snuggle even more under my down comforter and go back to sleep.

Monday was the worst day of the week and the worst of all Monday’s was the one after a vacation. That would be tomorrow around here.

We all knew school was inevitable. Hating to go only made it worse so abiding it as a necessary evil made it a bit more tolerable for those for whom school was anathema. I liked school or at least I never minded going. I liked most subjects except arithmetic because it was the only one which ever gave me any trouble. I used to hide my fingers under my desk so I wouldn’t get caught using them. I was a great carrier of numbers though. It was always the smaller ones which tripped me up, never those with three digits. I remember writing the 1 over the number the way I had been taught while in my head, I’d be saying, “And carry the one.” It was almost like a prayer, something we all learned by heart. My favorite subject was reading. We had a book series which we used from year to year. The books were filled with stories and poems with questions at the end. Lots of times we’d have to read aloud. I always felt bad for the kid who had trouble with words and for whom reading aloud was torture. “Sound out the letters,” was always the nun’s directive as if that easily solved the problem. What I thought was strange was our report cards graded us on silent reading, never reading aloud so I didn’t understand why we did it. I suppose to prove we could read.

I’m sorry geography as a separate subject has disappeared from most schools. It was always a favorite of mine. Only one part, learning the exports of all the countries, was never all that important to me. I liked the pictures and mostly I liked the stories of the way people lived. The tulips and the windmills, the snow on the mountains and the goats and sheep were far more fun than bananas and coffee beans.