Saturday, February 7, 2009

Algebra, New Shoes, and the Bible

Sixty years ago math held little importance for a mother. Her ability to feed and nurture her family gave her a sense of being needed. She read to her children and explained the relevance of the stories from the Bible to their lives. What she taught them was reinforced by their teachers in school. The children could repeat the ‘Golden Rule’ and explain who was to be considered ‘a neighbor’ without pause. Children understood the necessity for caring for their clothes and shoes, and no child would have complained about his or her supper—even if one serving was English peas. And a frown from Father was not to be taken lightly. A lecture about respectful behavior inevitably followed any horsing around at church.

Forty years ago high schools required algebra and geometry classes for graduating seniors. Failing either class required repeating the class. A good math teacher had tutorials for those who asked for help, but the school system did not require that of teachers. Kind hearted teachers gave of their time and knowledge willingly.

Gym shoes were an extra expense for families, but the shoes were great for absorbing the thorns of the ‘goat head’ stickers in Texas by the time summer rolled around. Each fall the new pair was never worn except on the gym floor until school was out. School shoes were also church shoes—cleaned and polished on Saturday night. Teens were allowed to sit together in church, but a minister who stopped the sermon to correct them could plan on hearing about their punishments later—along with an apology.

Twenty years ago children were offered generic math classes for those who really did not ‘understand’ algebra. The business math classes were considered remedial but taught the concepts of figuring interest on loans and bank statement reconciliation. Children who needed help were offered tutorial classes after school as mandated by the districts for the many children whose parents both worked and had no time to help them. Many of those students came to school early for breakfast because no one was at home to prepare a meal. Many school systems had to implement a dress code to keep children from wearing ragged jeans and shoes to school. Jeans and shoes with holes were an expensive fashion statement. School systems also did not allow organized prayer in school.

Today the algebra taught in second and third grades is equivalent to that used by junior high students twenty years ago. Calculus is even an option in some junior high schools. Dress codes require shoes to cover toes: no flip flops allowed. The Bible may be taught as a class in literature or history—not as a type of religion and not from the Bible itself because of the diversity of editions available.

Math—algebra or other concepts—has long been considered a necessity for the educated person. And while styles and fashions have changed what children are wearing—what they are now choosing to wear—those decisions are based on social expectations more than health or safety. Someday the knowledge of the Bible as history and literature may be just as prevalent as the knowledge of algebra or as widespread as the notion of Cupid in February—maybe in another twenty years?

1 comment:

Carla said...

I remember gym shoes that we kept in a box by the teacher's desk so that they were only worn on the gym floor. I think gym floors have become more durable even as we have moved to making "gym shoes" and "school shoes" pretty much identical. Hard to believe how long ago that was!