Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Me, Maths and More

I have mentioned in an earlier post my problems at school with maths. It seems I had a somewhat second-rate school option in ending up at Rushmoor over Bedford School (where three of my brothers went. Andrew went to Rushmoor for some unaccountable reason, but I can't think why my parents wasted good money on paying to have me sent to that place. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I really hated it.) As a result of all this, I was sent to various tutors around Bedford who were supposed to help me with my maths. I don't think I actually benefitted in any way, shape or form. I just think it made things worse as I was made to appear different from my classmates. I don't think I actually remember anything that I was supposed to have been taught. I can remember playing in some sort of sandpit which had toy soldiers in it, and something made of strips of plastic or rubber which you could knot or weave into all manner of objects such as key fobs and book markers, but nothing that had anything to do with mathematics. One place I went, when my mother came to collect me from school and was taken there and obviously took me out of any school lessons at Rushmoor, was in a building up some stairs in St Peter's Street in Bedford, which I believe is now something to do with the Probation Service, probably their administration offices, and just along the street from what was the Granada cinema but which has since been demolished and replaced by a Lidl supermarket. Another place I was taken was in Goldington Road, about where there are accountant and solicitor's offices. The gentleman who was the tutor smoked a pipe, and to this day I can still get a hint of the smell of the tobacco he must have smoked and there was a pipe-rack on the mantlepiece over the fireplace where the tutoring was held, and it contained a lot of pipes. Funny how some things stick in your memory, but certainly nothing to do with maths.

I think in the end it would have been better if I'd just been left alone and not dragged around these tutors. I am fine with what you call 'functional maths,' that is, basic maths skills to allow me to tot up a column of figures, division, multiplication, work out change, and so on. It was the more complex operations that were a complete mystery to me. Things like electric calculators have since come along and made my life easier, as they have for a lot of people. I think my mother just wanted what she thought was best for me I suppose and was attempting to make me like my other brothers and get me into Bedford School. I have certainly survived up until this point in time without having to worry about my lack of maths skills.

I did also have a mild form of dyslexia. I was told by my mother that they found this out because I used to use my wrong eye to look through such things as telescopes and cameras. If you are right-handed, apparently you use your right eye when using such things as cameras, but I didn't. I used my left eye. My maternal grandfather was supposed to have done done this when he was cleaning his shooting rifle, which was when it was suggested that I might be dyslexic. I did have some problems with reading but not as profoundly problematical as some people I have discovered. I have since found out that the problems with maths does have a name, dyscalculia. It has been defined by the DfE as follows: 'a condition which affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence.' It just annoys me now, some 50-plus years later, that I had to be treated as if I was some sort of 'naughty schoolboy' because of my maths problems, and was generally stuck at the back of the class and left alone or treated with something like contempt. But, I can at least sympathise with those people who have similar problems.

I also had something of a speech impediment to add to my woes as a child. I had something of a lisp. Fortunately I was taken to several what I suppose would be called 'speech therapists' today. I am therefore grateful that they DID have some sort of affect as I speak correctly today. I recall going to someone in Pemberley Avenue just off Kimbolton Road (and not far from Walmsley House School which is mentioned in an earlier post on here.) I think I could even find the house if I went and looked. Some of the methods used to get me to put my tongue forward in my mouth used a peppermint chocolate sweet, which I actually love and I probably ate quite a few and helped me to 'speak corruptly' as a result.

As a result of all this I am really sympathetic to anyone with any form of disability and might account for my being able to deal with people why have any form of learning disability. My mother, for example, had a friend of the family who we used to visit when we went to the Cotswolds, called Aunty Milly, but I don't think was actually a relative. You just called such friends as 'aunt' or 'uncle' out of respect I suppose. She had, poor lady, a cleft palate, which meant that when she spoke her speech was quite difficult to understand. But I had no problems, and I could converse with her clearly. My mother said I was the only person she knew who had the patience to sit and listen to her and talk to her properly. I put it down to having had problems with my own speech as a child and having to go through that therapy. One of my all-time favourite plays is 'Pygmalion' by George Bernard Shaw, which, if you don't already now, is about a man who is a speech therapist. I don't think Shaw calls him that. But I can identify with the central character of Eliza Doolittle who goes to Higgins so that he can teach her to speech 'better English.' I have never had a problem with the 'better English' part, but she goes through some of the same sort of training that I had as a child.
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