David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

Hit the Heights

After my four young children had taken turns swinging from the trapeze, it was, apparently, dad's turn. I dutifully climbed up the ladder, schooched over onto the bar, and sat suspended eight feet above a net. Even without the safety of the tried and true mesh, I was in no danger. At ninety-six inches above the padded mat, a fall would have been inconvenient but unlikely to cause injury. 

This knowledge notwithstanding, I froze. “Paralyzed with fear,“ I believe is the expression. I could not move. If a cadre of college kids hadn’t helped me down, I imagine I would still be sitting up on the trapeze all these years later because, except for trembling, I could not move. It took me until well into middle age to learn that I am terrified of heights. Terrified. It turns out I have an irrational, overwhelming fear of heights.

So now I know. I am scared of heights. What has this defect meant? Potential midlife career changes are off the table. The occupations of parachute instructor, mountain climber, and circus performer are closed to me. Yet I will muddle through. I will earn my bread as an educational consultant helping children and families choose and apply to colleges or therapeutic programs. In short, what difference does it make? I am unable to stand on my tiptoes without being overcome with blind, incapacitating terror. But I can function in other areas of life.

Note that if trapeze were part of curriculum, there would be trouble. It would be hard to exaggerate what I would do to avoid participating in “trapeze class“ Monday through Friday after homeroom. I would develop concomitant behavioral issues. I would “forget“ my gym clothes. I would get “sick.“ I might even punch a classmate so that I would get sent to the principal’s office. Anything to avoid “learning“ trapeze.

And what of your child’s imperfections? Does your kid have issues with an academic subject, for example? What about math? Are math class, math homework, and math tests undermining peace in your home?

Long time leaders will acknowledge how much I love all things mathematical. I love teaching math. I love talking about math. In my spare time, I find math puzzles and brain teasers online. To my loving wife’s eternal chagrin, I do math tricks at social gatherings. (“Hey! pick a three digit number!”)

But I speak with some authority when I corroborate that many good folks live happy, healthy, productive lives without the first inkling about logarithms, the quadratic formula, or--one of my very favorites--the law of cosines. You yourself, Gentle Reader, may have been one of the people who have desperately needed to run freshen your drink when I tried to introduce some fascinating tidbit about Euler's Toitiet function the last time we were at a social gathering.

But my affection for all things math related is no reason for tears, recriminations, words that cannot be taken back, and Draconian punishments in your home. And your predilection for biochemistry or architecture or even perfect grammar may not be worth addressing those topics once it becomes blindingly clear that your kids don't share that particular passion.

I do hope your kids will learn math as much math as they are able. I hope your kids will love math. I hope your kids and I will be able to chat about math puzzles at a party some day soon. But if your kids are truly unable to succeed in advanced math courses, perhaps it is best not to force them in that direction. It may not end well. Indeed, I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I had to get up on that trapeze day after day.



4 thoughts on “Hit the Heights

  1. Michael Murray

    David: I am not sure how I got on your mailing list, but it is a nutritious and stimulating reflection each week.
    I was especially touched by this one about fear (height) and delight (math) this week. Ironically, it came on a day when I had watched a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the issue of what schools do to the creativity of children when they don’t pay attention to the unique gifts of each child. As an educator I assume you are most likely familiar with his work and writings. But, just in case, I wanted to mention him. The title of his TED Talk is “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

    1. David Post author

      Shame on me, Mike, I was not familiar with this TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson. I will check it out.

      My readers and I are grateful for the head’s up.

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words. I will endeavor to merit your good opinion! 🙂

  2. David Beecher

    Thanks David. As always stimulating and entertaining. Regarding Sir Ken Robinson, I had the honor of seeing/hearing him in person twice—he was a gift to us all. I met him after one speech; he could not have been more gracious. DZB

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