The Why

Simon, who is 11, isn't doing particularly well in math.

The other night, we sat at the kitchen table to work on the multiplying and subtracting of mixed numerals, and what I discovered upon looking closely at his test was that Simon actually does understand fractions, for the most part. So when I say he's not doing well in math, this means, actually, that Simon is not slowing down enough to do well in math.

The theories he's got down, for the most part. The motivation to do well, he does not.

We reviewed the concepts, and then I stressed the importance of taking the time needed to do a good job. We talked about why grades are important, as faulty a system as that may be, and why he needs to try to get those grades up.

And then I brought up diabetes. Diabetes is the elephant in every room, even though the type 1 diabetic himself was elsewhere in the house. A calculator there, test strip here, vials in the frig.

With diabetes, I told Simon, we do much the same kinds of math. We deal in decimals, we divide and multiply at every meal.

The difference is this: it's not for a grade. It's a matter of life, and, unfortunately, death. When we sit down to count the carbs and determine the dosage of insulin, we want to get the math right. We need to get the math right. This is not an assignment we turn in and hope the teacher approves; the very real life of our son is affected. Too much insulin, he could slip unconscious. Too little insulin going unnoticed, the chance of long-term effects is increased.

I often perform the simplest calculation three or four times to be sure I got it right. Simon, however, is speeding through his tests, finding time even to doodle on the sides.

Similar actions, wildly different motivations.

The motive, my friend, makes all the difference.

what moves you?


  1. ah, so interesting. yes, my 12 yo has the same problem, she rushes to get to the end of her math problems and often has the right answer for the question, except for that one detail that she overlooked. don't know how we can get them to slow down. is it even possible?

  2. Being dyslexic, I had trouble with math at that age because it was so easy for me to misplace a number. (Still is!) I remember responding by dragging my feet rather than rushing. I understood the concepts, too, but each problem felt like a giant weight on me because I could so easily screw up. So it's probably good that he can go so fast. Maybe he needs more of a challenge, which will force him to slow down?

  3. Is it possible to *become* dyslexic? I have been having problems.

    Good points there, DD. I've been making him redo everything he gets wrong, stressing that he could avoid this step if he slows down in the first place. Your perspective is interesting.

    You're right, Shannon, and the trick is that with math, you can't get credit for only making that one mistake, because your answer is wrong.

    Again this morning I was doing major calculations over breakfast, which reminds of the point of this all: the same actions, different motives, big difference. It's fascinating.

  4. There was a scene in season 1 of The Wire where a drug dealer (who was maybe 15) was helping his sister (maybe 11) do her math homework. He took one look at it and said "That's easy!" but she didn't get it so he did an analogy with how she would use numbers during a drug deal. She was then able to get it right away. He asked why she can't just do that at school, and she said "because they won't beat me up when I make a mistake." So the moral is that Simon should start dealing drugs--no wait...I'm not for beating up kids either, so I don't know what the takeaway is. Learning to concentrate and treat things as important may be the key to a lot of things, but it's also very hard. Ok, I'll stop with that.

  5. Oh, and as far as I know you can't catch dyslexia later in life. No such luck.

  6. I'd say the takeaway is again determining our motivation. What moves us to "concentrate and treat things as important"?

    But the dyslexia thing is really troubling me. I'll see a word as misspelled, then I'll look again and it's okay. It's happening all the time now! Whaddya think, Dr D Dog?

  7. Weird. Maybe you're more distracted now than at other times in life?

  8. And I cut back on my caffeine intake!


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