When I was a school kid, I didn't like being a kid and I hated school. I particularly hated lessons that forced-fed me facts with no explanation of the reasons for them or the basic principles underlying their working. What, I thought, was the point in cutting open a dead frog to see what's inside when it had been done thousands of times before - and where the answers for what I should find had been set in stone anyway - so, that if I saw anything different, I would be 'wrong' rather than heralded as the new discoverer of something 'right'. In maths, lessons apparently taught me calculus, but, maybe I missed the one in which the teacher told me why I should bother with it. Having no idea what it could do, I saw no reason to learn it - also - I had no way of getting to grips with a slippery customer which had no association to any reality I already new. Also, it was hard!
I had been a late reader too. My first school books were 'Janet and John' stories in which two utterly dull kids went to a toy shop or a butcher's or somewhere else boring and did boring things like saying ' Oh, what a lovely balloon' and suchlike. Why on earth would I want to read that? The pictures told me what was going on - and nothing was - so there was no point in deadening my mind with the small black wiggly things under the boring illustrations.
My Mother thought otherwise. She read me 'Winnie the Pooh' stories - these had brilliant drawings which set the scene rather than tell the whole plot in one go. She did all the voices and everything too, and, she recorded them on tape so I could listen whenever I wanted. Reel to Reel tapes by the way, on a 'Gramdeck' as we could not afford a real tape recorder - it was the very early 1960s after all. So, that way I learned there was good stuff in books after all, but, it was all on tape - so again - no point in my learning to read.
My Mother caught on to this one rather quickly. The 'Cat in the Hat' came next. Again, brilliant, but totally different - and this time colour - illustrations, surreal and inviting imagination. The poetry was enticing too. I liked the feel of the words and spoke them along with my Mother's reading - that way I went on to read them myself. My next book was 'Escape from Planet Earth', a hardback with no pictures.
I found I could learn. Physics was a great love, as was anything technological. Things I could use and trust and test. Things that would lead somewhere new and exciting or improve what I already had - wonderful. French did not come in to that realm at all. I asked why I had to learn that and was told that one day I may want to go there. I pointed out I wouldn't. because I didn't speak the language - and the lesson ended and never returned. That was in primary school though, I had no such luck at my 'English Grammar School'.
I had just about passed my 11 plus exam and had been reluctantly let in to the painfully local school for boys. I did not get on well. I never really understood that School then was a place to learn answers not ask questions - so I learned nothing and got told off. Except for Physics and Technology where I made personal friends of the teachers. `
I was also on very good terms with the Art master and the English master. The first chap made fun of me in a way I could respect - the first time that ever happened. The second chap let me join the 'Stage Staff'. There I learned how to get on with people who liked the same things I did - oddly, tape recorders.
This was my early school life. I learned what I felt was important or interesting and ignored anything and everything that left me cold. I did try and work up an ability to pass exams, but to no effect. If I could not check the answer or understand and appreciate how it was achieved, then I had no way to remember it. This was a very slow way to learn and it showed in my marks.
Economics was a different matter, it was an odd half way house. I could see a mechanism and understand the importance of being able to match supply with demand butI did not see the moral reason for increasing the price by reducing the supply when demand was high, and I still don't. In fact, I took a degree of offense from that sort of thinking and said so, in effect, in the answers I gave in a multiple choice exam.
My Maths understanding was broken by the lack of an explanation of it's values, but I had a grasp of percentages. I knew that a random set of answers to questions with three options would get me a 33.3333% mark on average sort of thing. When it came to the exam, I scored 4%. I think I was a Green from that point on, at least 96% green.
The teacher told my parents that I should read newspapers to learn how the real world worked, but I think I knew that his idea of the real world didn't actually work at all - it was just consuming it's candle at both ends and in the middle to burn brightly enough to blind observers to the fact that it was all going to be 'up' as soon as it ran out of wax. My opinion has not changed. Some may, and do, call me naive for this way of thinking. They do so often enough for me to have almost learned how to spell the word 'naive' without looking it up first, but, I see no reason to change my world view.
Another part of Maths that didn't pass me by was subtraction. You can't keep taking away from a fixed number without it going negative. I wonder what my old economics master would say to that.