Learning New Methods

“Dad, can I have some help with math?” asked my son. 

I love it when my children ask for help. It lets me know that I am not like that old computer that is sitting in the basement, waiting to go to recycling. I do not want my children to think that I need to be taken to recycling just yet. 

“Sure,” I said, sitting down next to him. My son was in third grade, so his math should have posed no challenge. He was holding his head in his hand, staring at a sheet of numbers. 

“Let’s get started,” I said, trying to sound as excited as I would be if we were working on discovering the equation for the Theory of Everything. To my surprise, he started drawing a series of boxes with diagonal lines.  

“What is that?” I asked, staring at the paper. 

“It’s multiplication,” he responded, “Don’t you know how to do multiplication?” 

At that moment I was tempted to go ask my daughter if she needed help with geometry. Squares and lines belong in geometry. I was starting to feel more like the computer in the basement. 

“Why don’t you show me how you do it,” I answered, hoping that he would not know that I had no idea how to use this “new” method. 

“That’s the problem,” he replied, “I don’t remember, but I know this is how you start.” 

At that moment, I was tempted to say something less than flattering about this “new” method, and ask what was wrong with the old method. I caught myself. I try never to say anything negative about school. I could hear the computer calling from the basement, “What’s so great about Windows 7? Windows NT is just fine.” 

“Give me a minute,” I said, then scurried off to my computer to search “diagonal multiplication.” 

I quickly found several articles explaining the lattice method. I also saw a few diatribes about the frustration of other parents with this method. I decided to let the diatribes wait, and read an explanation instead. I also decided to see who invented this “new” method, and was surprised to find it the earliest recoded use of it was in Arab mathematics in the late 13th century. In China, the earliest record dates to 1450.    

“Fascinating,” I thought, then remembered I was supposed to be helping my son. 

When I returned, he was busily filling the lattice with numbers. “I remember now,” he said. 

“Did you know the earliest use of the lattice method was in Arabia in the 13th century?” I asked, trying to prove I was not obsolete. 

“Oh,” he grunted without looking up. 

I do not know if I like the lattice method, but I do know that I do not have to become obsolete. As long as I am willing to keep learning, I can adapt.  

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 6, Issue 24, Posted 10:04 AM, 11.25.2014