David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
The Labor of Division

September 5, 2016: Labor Day Edition

This last week, as part of a professional development day activity for faculty, I subjected them all to a 45-minute lesson from Calculus I--the kind of lesson that would almost certainly have been delivered on the first day of that class.

As with, I'm guessing, every other college and university across this country, SMC deals with all of the versions of math anxiety, math denial, and math hatred carried by its students. And for this 45 minutes, many of the faculty, who as a group averaged 2.5 post-secondary degrees, displayed every math-phobic response as our students: they groaned; they joked about withdrawing; they laughed nervously; they muttered, "this is stupid;" they lamented that "I will never use this;" and, yes, at least briefly, one or two even fell asleep.  However, today's blog does not come from the holier-than-thou corner of my universe. If it wasn't for the crafty transitions from general points about slope to specific examples, pertinent to anyone in education, I might too have easily slid back into my own math phobia.

Why is math perceived as such difficult, onerous work?

Such is the uphill battle math faculty face everyday, a battle only made tougher when the people on their own side--fellow faculty, staff members, even administrators--openly admit from the sideline that "they too don't get math," or "math isn't my thing." 

I suppose I get this more than many others, because the truth of the matter is that it is not just math.  To most non-Literature graduates, poetry is some cute, antiquated form of writing beyond their comprehension.  In an Intro To Literature course, I would always start with short stories, and students read and responded with glee. The second, truthfully, the second, we turned to poetry their eyes glazed over.  I might as well have been teaching calculus at that moment.

So, with a nod of my head to Dr. Keith Howell, SMC's brilliant Chair of Math & Science, who reminded me of the value of slopes, I present


I work these slopes with plodding feet,

My attempt to somehow function,

Using language to keep a beat,

Logically for conjunction

And to clarify the discrete.

In the end it's my compunction

If smooth-talkers win by deceit,

Deadly as the police truncheon.


When the devil throws us a curve,

We can't question what confounds us.

He delivers what we deserve

Since deeper thinking astounds us.

Poem or polynom can't serve

To open locks that surround us.

Fancy talk doesn't strike a nerve,

Merely fills the air and drowns us.


Look at your daily feed in action

To see their brash hyperbole.

Reason is dis-satisfaction

And dumb is the Calliope.

No wonder only a fraction

Will figure out why we're slowly

Dying from airy olfaction

From holes where their diapers should be.


Don't expect them to throw life lines

That you already rejected.

You overlooked many signs,

Left your openings neglected.

You possess no right to your spines

Signed o'er to your elected.

They have taken you to the nines

The whole time you have objected.