Tuesday, February 22, 2005

When in Rome, February XXII, MMV

I have an obscure talent with absolutely no market value. I am highly proficient at deciphering Roman numerals. As you can imagine, my abilities in this area are seldom required. Aside from the odd clock face and the numbering of document outlines, about the only time I use this talent is to decipher the copyright dates that flash by at the end of television programs.

I acquired this claim to fame during a 6-week period in the fourth grade, courtesy of the high school football coach. Attending a small school had some interesting aspects. In Smiley, the entire 12 grades shared the same campus. Teachers had multiple duties they performed and our fourth grade teacher was also the faculty sponsor of the high school drill team. During football season, she spent one period every day working with the girls on their next Friday night performance. In her absence, our math classes were conducted by the high school football coach.

The idea was that we were to learn long division. For reasons known only to Coach, we tackled the subject of Roman numerals. Rome may not have been built in a day but anyway you look at it, Roman numerals don’t take six weeks to conquer. But we were drilled day in and day out on the various components and how to use them to construct the Roman numeral representation of any number.

None of us knew any better, so we were perfectly happy to while away our math lessons for that six weeks. But sooner or later the piper will always demand his due. When our teacher returned to our math class, she expected us to know long division. What followed was a crash course to bring us up to speed. (As I recall, she wasn’t at all impressed by our ability to handle Roman numerals.)

Thanks to the general lack of teaching I had received in the previous year at another school, I had a much harder time catching on to the requirements for long division than did my classmates. It nearly killed my soul to be kept in at recess to practice math. I don’t remember how many of those sessions it took before my brain finally comprehended the necessary concepts.

That year probably marked me. I was never comfortable in math classes for the rest of my educational career. I managed to maintain my generally “A” average through college (with one unfortunate lapse to a “B-” during a miserable 6-week period in Algebra II), but it was only when I began to work with computers on the job that I came to enjoy and appreciate the mysteries of mathematics. Now I sometimes wish I could go back and take all those upper math classes again without the “fear factor”.

Be that as it may, my Sunday School teacher warned us about hiding our lights under a bushel. I may be lousy at Algebra and Trigonometry, but I can show you some fancy footwork when it comes time to translate a copyright date. Now if I could just figure out a way to get paid for it.


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