I just helped my son with his math. Yay, what’s more American than Dad helping Son with Homework? Except, you see, I am functionally ar-tarded at math, and he’s in 8th grade, in honors algebra. Algebra was my arch-enemy, my nemesis, my Achilles heel. I barely squeaked a passing grade and promptly forgot it all.

Remember all of those complaints about “I’ll never use this in the real world” that we leveled at the teacher? The ones that he dodged with a shifty-eyed expression and a “yes you will, you don’t even know?” Yeah, honestly I’ve never needed polynomials, factors or quadratic shit. Until now. Until my son started suffering through the same thing.

That’s what you’ll use algebra for, kids…helping your future kids when they have to pass the class.

Anyway, my son. He’s in 8th grade — that’s middle school — and he has to know polynomials, factoring and quadratic equations in order to pass. In 8th grade. That wasn’t in my curriculum until my junior year of high school. Sure, that was a long, *long* time ago, but we were NOT learning that level of algebra in middle school in the 1980’s. I will admit that I took an almost remedial track of math in high school. Freshman year: pre-algebra; sophmore year, algebra I; junior year, algebra II. Other kids started with algebra I, and ended up taking both geometry and trigonometry before they graduated.

I, on the other hand, did not. Let’s backtrack farther…to the late 1970’s. To my elementary school years. To the years of The New Math. I remember math in fifth grade clearly…that’s when the teacher (Mrs. Cozat, a huge, battle-ax of a lady who used to make students stick gum on their nose if she caught them chewing it) tried to teach long division. I didn’t learn it. It seemed like numbers were going everywhere with no reason or logic. I didn’t learn long division until 6th grade…in middle school.

Again: I did not learn long division until middle school. And my son is learning advanced algebra in middle school. I was definitely behind the 8-ball.

And another thought comes to me…if they’re learning the subjects I learned in high school…in middle school, what happened to the subjects I learned in middle school? Was their learning compressed into a too-short time span, so they couldn’t really absorb the basics? Or does the school system just skip over some more basic concepts to get to the advanced stuff? If math builds upon itself, what is this advanced, middle-school math building on?

Regardless, I am currently very bad at math, especially algebra. My help for my son consisted of searching for example equations on a study sheet. What floors me, though, is the array of study aids available. We found a website called Algebra Nation. It contains videos of algebra concepts, lots of them.

And the guy in the video explained factoring polynomials in a way that even I could understand it. If that kind of help — hell, if there had been an internet in 1983 — had been available to me, I would have been able to do so much better in math, and would maybe not feel so embarrassed now, 20-odd years later, when my wife (who is a math whiz) belittles me for not being able to help my son with his algebra.