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Perceptions of Math and Education in Appalachia Padua

An Ol’ Timer’s Perspective
Sunday, March 21, 2004 Noon
By Holly Harrison

During the lunch following church, I sit down next to an older gentleman.  He seems very friendly, so I ask him if I could do an interview.  He inquires, “Do you have one for an 85-year-old? Or am I too old?”  With a warm smile on his face, I can tell he’s joking, but still I reassure him that he is a perfect candidate to give me some insight.  He says yes, and it’s all progresses from there.

The former accountant explains that math was always his favorite subject in school.  While in school, teachers would not call on him in class because he always had his hand up, ready to express his abilities. This gentleman describes math as the only subject that came easily to him.  He feels that math is very important in everyday life because every job requires some level of mathematics.  Even as a retiree, he tells me a story about his use of math.  He says that he went into a local food store to purchase an item.  He had a discount for 5% off.  He explains that his item was only a dollar, and that the clerk had to take out her calculator to figure the amount.  He tells me that when he explained to the clerk that it was five cents off, she asked, “How did you know that?”  He explained to her that 5% of 100 pennies is five pennies. He explains that he went on his way, disgusted by what he had experienced at the store.

He tells me that every generation seems to rely on calculators more and more.  The kind gentleman reminisces the past for a moment, focusing on how his mother could solve math problems in her head faster than he could with a pad and pencil.  He feels that this phenomenon is related to the different math education approaches throughout the years.  According to him, calculators inhibit mathematic abilities.

He also accredits variances in mathematic abilities to the teachers.  He feels that modern-day teachers of Padua aren’t very dedicated to teaching.  He paints a picture of teachers in the past: working all day long, coming home and grading papers and to work on the next day’s assignments, going to every school function without compensation, and then finally going to bed at a very late hour just to continue the same routine early the next day.  He reminisces out loud a math problem that one of his teachers had taught him.  As a student, he was taught that he could measure the height of a tree by comparing it to a smaller tree beside it.  He expresses that interesting facts like these stick with people, and that teachers today do not apply themselves nearly as much as they use to.  He asserts that most of the younger teachers work merely for the pay, not for the passion of teaching. 

I decide to ask him what level should be required for students throughout school.  He feels that there are no uses for very high levels, such as Trigonometry.  However, he suggests that Geometry and Algebra are important because he uses them around the house and in everyday situations.  A very educated man, he had studied math his whole life.  Although now retired, explains that as an accountant and payroll manager he took many math classes throughout adulthood.  He says that he really enjoyed all of these classes.  Nevertheless, he feels uncertain that offering mathematics classes to the senior citizens of Padua is a good idea.  He feels that most older adults would not feel the need to expand their mathematic abilities, however he feels that computer classes would be very useful.  Although somewhat off the topic at hand, we chat awhile about computers.

I hop back on the math-train by asking him about his education.  He paints the picture of ideal education.  He says that all of his teachers were excellent; very passionate and compassionate.  While describing all of his classes, he includes Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, and Calculus.  Just as he had expressed earlier, he maintains that all of his classes were very enjoyable.  As I prepare to leave, I thank the gentleman.  I explain to him that he is one of my first interviews while in Padua.  His eyes twinkle and a big grin appears at the thought that he is somewhat special.  And he is.  He illustrates ideas that would have never been expressed without his interview.  With this interview under my belt, I now have a very positive outlook on all Padua inhabitants and the interviews that they will produce.