Ever since I was knee high to a mockingbird, I’ve been reading about the lamentable state of American innumeracy. Seems like we Americans, unlike Koreans, Finns, and Albanians, just can’t find our way in even the lower mathematics. Many theories have been advanced. Many studies, at great expense, have been launched.
Well, I was sitting out at the playground today, watching Adam and other kids and parents, and it struck me that it might have something to do with the way us parents threaten. More specifically, the way we say: I’m going to count to five and you better get in your seat, eat your dinner, get off the jungle gym, etc.
Nobody ever says, I’m going to go to “e”.
It is perhaps for this reason that the alphabet really does seem composed of friendly little mountaineers, each with its little hammer, all of them climbing up one after the other the cliff face of language. Whereas numbers always have the whiff of the disciplinarian, as if they all waved rulers at us threateningly.
To prove my theory, I’d only need a couple of million dollars from Zuckerberg or Gates or one of the other billionaires. I would raise three groups of kids, one threatened, traditionally, with numeration, one with the alphabet (I’m going to go to e, and you better be over here: a b c d e) and one raised with varied threats (I’m going to go to mo and you better get over here -eenie meenie minee mo; or, I’m going to go to paper and you better get off that jungle gym – rock scissors paper). Then we’d overload these children with various repeititive and intrusive tests and find out whether the alphabet menaced read at a lower level than the number menaced, and so on.
I’m getting on the phone to the Ford foundation tomorrow.