Saturday, April 17, 2010

So many ways to answer this problem!

 The Certainty of Numbers

by Bruce Snider

It’s not the numbers you dislike—
the 3s or 5s or 7s—but the way
the answers leave no room for you,
the way 4 plus 2 is always 6
never 9 or 10 or Florida,
the way 3 divided by 1
is never an essay about spelunking
or poached salmon, which is why
you never seemed to get the answer right
when the Algebra teacher asked,
If a man floating down a river in a canoe
has traveled three miles of a twelve mile canyon
in five minutes, how long will it take him
to complete the race? Which of course depends
on if the wind resistance is 13 miles an hour
and he’s traveling upstream
against a 2 mile an hour current
and his arms are tired and he’s thinking
about the first time he ever saw Florida,
which was in seventh grade
right after his parents’ divorce
and he felt overshadowed
by the palm trees, neon sun visors,
and cheap postcards swimming
with alligators. Nothing is ever simple,
except for the way the 3 looks like two shells
washed up on last night’s shore,
but then sometimes it looks like a bird
gently crushed on its side.
And the 1—once so certain
you could lean up against it
like a gray fence post—has grown weary,
fascinated by the perpetual
itch of its own body.
Even the Algebra teacher
waving his formulas like baseball bats,
pauses occasionally when he tells you
that a 9 and a 2 are traveling in a canoe
on a river in a canyon. How long
will it take them to complete their journey?
That is if they don’t lose their oars
and panic and strike the rocks,
shattering the canoe. Nothing is ever certain.
We had no plan, the numbers would tell us,
at the moment of our deaths.
Bruce Snider. The Year We Studied Women.

I love this poem. It was one of my favorites when I was a high school algebra teacher. My students were all mono-lingual - they spoke nothing but spanish. I was bilingual.

Somedays I wanted to accept that 6 plus 2 was purple. Or that a dividing two fractions was poached salmon. Everyday I wanted these students to grasp whatever they could - because once they hit the real world, they would lose their oars and panic.  There would be no room to budge.

Sometimes the digit 1 did grow weary of waiting for the right answer. And when I told the students that 9 and 2 were traveling in a canoe - the canoe immediately sunk.

At the moment of our death, we have no plan. And algebra??? Once you solve a binomial, are you any more certain?


C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

IT's been a while since I stopped by, and this blog is as great as ever. Thanks for sharing your stories Brenda.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

Math was always a challenge for me, still is. I could just never grasp that anything could be so final. I need wiggle room!Still don't get math, still need wiggle room.

have you measured that doggie door, yet? Mr. B is a smart boy, he would adapt. The other Mr. B maybe could, too.

Great poem, by the way. I had never seen it before or heard of Bruce Snider. Now I am going looking for more.

altadenahiker said...

Miss Math, I'm going to say, yes, you are more certain. Because you've found a world where there's a right and a wrong, only one answer, and it's nice to have a passport.

Barb said...

For this very reason, because my mind flies off in too many tangents, I became an English major! I've never read Bruce Snider, but I do like this poem very much.

Whitemist said...

Ah, but in quantum mechanics sometimes one plus one is not always one!
I hate quantum mechanics!

I can be a bit of a smart you know what some times

BANJO52 said...

Like the poem AND your comments. I'm told that really higher math becomes philosophy and/or physics, but you and Snider sure show the limitations of lower level math. Maybe that's why I stunk at it--if we can't skip straight to physics, philosophy and mortality, I refuse to play (or something like that . . .).

Kudos to Ahiker for the passport idea. Mine was declined.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Ooh, you boys (Whitemist and Banjomyn, I am talking to YOU TWO) and your higher math skills... you stymie the rest!
And yes, SistrCousyn AH, a passport is always a good idea.

Good to see you again Christy! I love your publishing blog. Each post is an eye opening "wow" fact finding tour.

Stumpy's mom - 2 Mr. Bs? who is #2?
Barb, you will be here soon - glad you found AHiker's blog, too!

Sam said...

That is a great poem! That was always my problem - that math left no room to think outside the box!


Thérèse said...

Oh Brenda, such a title for such a great poem! I love it. I am feeling ready to give algebra another try :)

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

Yepper math can fool us all. Children do seem so see the bigger picture.. he he
We loved it..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie