Free-Floating Hostility

Friday, October 21, 2005

Take Your Mother to School Day

Trixie is visiting, and she's doing real eco-tourism. This morning she bravely accepted my invitation to accompany me to class, and caught the 5:45 am train with me to Berkeley. She pronounced my Biostatistics professor "cute" and when I said I'd met his wife and that she was lovely Mom replied, "So?" then added as an afterthought, "What is he ethnically?" She was able to follow 80% of the lecture by her own reckoning, which sounds right to me cause Prof. Selvin is fantastic. She wanted me to introduce her afterwards, saying it would thrill her to meet one of her students' mothers, but we were going to be late for Epidemiology. Before Epi lecture started, Mom asked loudly (from the front row, mind you) "Are all your professors thin, athletic white men?" I answered, "You're killing me. You're actually taking years from my life." She found this professor's lecture on types of bias very interesting, too, although it apparently filled her with despair, which she allayed by opening a packet of gum while he was talking that sounded like a sonic boom. After class I offered to introduce her to this professor, but she said, "Nah, he's not cute." She's wrong on that count, but that's beside the point.

Mom found the morning's lectures so inspiring that she came away with a renewed desire to learn math. Apparently thirty years ago Phil was writing his master's thesis arguing that anyone could be taught to master math, and when Mom volunteered to be one of his test subjects the session ended with Phil throwing the workbook at her and saying "You've ruined my study; you're unteachable." Nonetheless, she said this morning that she thought she could get it if she started at the very beginning, so I offered to review the principles behind the use of a cartesian plane on the train home, and she accepted. I constructed an example relevant to her life, wherein three friends dear to her heart go to a gay bar and hold a competition to see who can get the most phone numbers in 24 minutes. She followed it all very well, calculated the slope of a few lines, and even said it was sort of fun like computer solitaire. "But," she added, "I still don't care. What's the point of it all?" I didn't throw anything at her, but I did modify Phil's assessment far enough to say that while she wasn't unteachable, she was a complete Philistine.

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