Monday, May 09, 2016

Mr. Jones

I just read a crazy article about a woman on a passenger plane who noticed that the man beside her was scribbling in and peering intently at a notebook. He was apparently so focused on the the material in that book that he refused to engage in if obsessed. So she apparently looked at the visible pages of the notebook and could not decipher the insane glyphs and icons written upon them.

So, she concluded, he had to be a terrorist and she reported him to the employees of the airline and insanity ensued.

In fact, he was a mathematics professor and was working on a very complicated equation. His fellow passenger could not fathom the meaning of the visible contents of the pages and concluded that he was a force for evil.

Now, when I was taking Polygons and Trigonometry in high school, I would have agreed with her. But it is all indicative of the level of ignorance that is prevalent in the USA and which seems to be actively encouraged by our present society. Learning is apparently something that is beneath contempt for the average American.

And it all made me think of how I came to even be found in a Polygons and Trigonometry class in my senior year of high school.

I have a slightly above average IQ (127). I always tell people that I'm just smart enough to know that I'm not all that smart. In my senior year of high school in the small mountain town of Ellijay, Georgia I found myself every semester in at least one class taught by a mathematics teacher named Mr. Jones. To my shame, I have forgotten his first name. But for some reason he liked me and we would sometimes have pleasant conversations. In addition to teaching, he had been an elected member of Georgia's House of Representatives as a Republican. (The county where I lived then elected no Democrats to office.) During the previous election cycle he had angered one of his strongest supporters, the Georgia Power Company, by voting in favor of creating the Cohutta Wilderness Area (which Georgia Power did not wish to see). So they stopped contributing to his campaigns and supported a rival and he did not win the subsequent primary.

At any rate, he was kind to me. At the time I was heavily involved in sports which means that if you are at all dedicated to your team and coach, you are present each and every day for practice and team meetings. Thus, my attendance that year was spotless and my grades were accordingly excellent. During the first semester I took a business math class under Mr. Jones and emerged with the highest average in that class. I recall because if I failed to score 100 on any test I was pretty angry with myself. That only happened twice, when I got back a 98 and a 99.

So, at the end of that semester he encouraged me to take Polygons and Trigonometry. I explained to him that I always had trouble with anything that remotely resembled advanced math and math theory. I told him that I was good at just doing the basic number thing, and could even do okay in some of the easier algebra and geometry subjects. But anything more advanced than that and I seemed to fall by the wayside. I explained that I was doing my best to produce perfect "A" status in my senior year and that if I failed at Polygons and Trig then I would not meet my goal and thus have a harder time entering college.

He then told me that he was positive that I would do well in the class and I continued to refuse. Finally, he told me that he would guarantee me at least a "B", no matter what. Yes, I know the ethics of that are not good--either for him or for me, but I agreed, since he seemed so confident that I would do well in the class (based on my superlative grades in Business Math). I signed up for the class. let me say that I did try. I did not take the promise of "at least a B" and go all lazy. I applied myself tremendously, but the concepts were beyond my ability to comprehend, even when I had help from Mr. Jones and various class tutors. As I had explained to him, it was just not my bag. At tests I would always score less than a 50. Consistent "F"s. I recall scoring a 28 on one test. It was a disaster.

In that semester football season was alreadyover and I was then on the wrestling team. I was at school every day and cracked the books as consistently as I struggled to become a decent wrestler. But while I made "A"s in all of my other classes, I emerged officially with about a 35 average from that freaking Trigonometry class. I was upset with myself and feared what it would do to my GPA. However, true to his promise, Mr. Jones gave me a "B" in the class. I can't recall if he penned in an 80 or an 81, but there it was on the report cards they issued us. It was the only time that final year that I failed to get an A in any class.

Sometime during that period Richard Nixon had had to resign as President. Subsequently Nixon developed some serious health issues due to a condition called phlebitis. One day Mr. Jones came into class upset. It was just after the news of Nixon's health crisis had hit the papers and TV shows. He was a faithful Republican despite his pro-environment stance as a Georgia State congressman and he was genuinely upset over Nixon's situation. I remember that he stepped through the classroom door looking red-eyed. I asked him what was wrong (he was actually wringing his hands).

And he said, "Nixon. They've killed him. They're killing him."

To my shame, my reply was, "I hope so."

And this was before he kept his promise and gave me a "B" for taking the challenge to prove myself.

I never went to college for reasons having nothing to do with my excellent GPA and everything to do with money. I was good enough to get into most schools I wanted to attend, but not to grab anything approaching a scholarship. As I said...I am smart enough to understand that I just ain't all that smart. I think about that every time I remember my curt response to Mr. Jones' genuine despair over the welfare of the man who had led his political party.

Part of the stadium where I played football and ran track. Gilmer High had a stadium in those days that was excessive for such a small school (grades 8-12, graduating senior class of barely over 100). They love their football in Georgia.

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