Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Before I Can Graduate I Have to - Gulp - Pass Algebra

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Before I Can Graduate I Have to - Gulp - Pass Algebra

Article excerpt

Like many midlife women, I went back to college and joined the growing ranks of "nontraditional" students. Each day brought new challenges. I learned once again how to take notes, how to study, and how to appear awake at 8 a.m.

An English major, I eventually became the (oldest) arts editor of the campus newspaper. Although staff members were the ages of my own children, no one brought it up. And while we often lunched together in the cafeteria, I never expected to be included in their spring break trip to Cancun.

One day I received a letter from the dean's office, and my expectations were grandiose. Perhaps he wanted to bestow an award: Distinguished Nontraditional Scholar.

When I opened it, however, I discovered that wasn't the case. The letter was a reminder that if I expected to graduate, I had to pass algebra.

Algebra! The letter trembled in my hands. It brought back buried memories. In my worst nightmare, I am back in high school, standing at the blackboard in front of the class, attempting to solve an equation. Flustered, I scribble nonsensical symbols, which I immediately erase in a vain attempt to baffle. Alas, no one is fooled.

Surely there's some way I can get out of this. At the college library I researched "dyscalculia," which, according to the American Heritage College Dictionary, is "an impairment of the ability to solve mathematical problems." Armed with that information, I visited the dean's office and vigorously mounted a campaign to waive the algebra requirement.

The dean was willing, providing I got permission from Dr. Wong, the head of the college math department.

Dr. Wong listened patiently while I spoke of the suffering I'd undergo were I forced to take algebra.

When I was through, instead of sympathizing, he talked about Estelle, another older student. Like me, Estelle had claimed to have had bad experiences with math. …

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