Outdoor Education

I am a person who does not like to be removed from human-made structures for extended periods of time.

So you may wonder why I would elect to fulfill my high school physical education requirement with the Outdoor Education module.

Odd as this may sound, it was the only gym unit that did not require shorts or running or sweating.

See, this was New York.  Outdoor Education was held in an indoor classroom and involved only sitting in street clothes and talking about the outdoors.

Now, sitting and talking are areas in which I usually excel, but the topics discussed in this class were completely outside of my experience and utterly beyond my imagination.

One day, for example, we considered the type of food that would help you survive if you got lost in the wilderness.

Our instructor, Mr. Gage, suggested that Spam would be the ideal alternative.  Spam?  I had heard of Spam, but thought it was a kind of fake food, not something you would really eat.  Like those inedible Christmas fruitcakes with the bright red and green chunks made from rubber or plastic or some other synthetic substance.

The whole conversation was just bizarre.  My classmates listed the alleged benefits of Spam.  It comes in a can.  It has nutritional additives.  It is chemically preserved.  It is high in fat, calories, and sodium.  These were the reasons they would eat Spam?  These were the reasons I would not eat Spam!  Besides, it was treyf!

But something was bothering me about the whole scenario.  Something about the big picture just did not make sense.  I raised my hand.  “Mr. Gage,” I said, “I don’t understand how we could possibly get lost in the wilderness.  I mean, what were we doing there in the first place?”

It was then I learned that people go to the wilderness voluntarily.  To do something called backpacking.  An activity which sounded even more dreadful than the camping I had seen on the television.  I was sure they were kidding me.

Soon, it was time for the final exam.  Had we been in Colorado, I am sure we would have been airdropped to the Rocky Mountains in the midst of a blizzard, left to survive with only a ballpoint pen and a pocket comb.  This being New York, however, our final was multiple choice, administered on those Scantron forms where you fill in the bubbles with a No. 2 pencil.

Unfortunately, I did not survive even the first page.  It was question #5 that led to my demise.  A food question.  Spam was not one of the four available responses.  Upon encountering a patch of berries in the wild, I chose to “eat what the animals eat”.  In doing so, I made for myself a very painful death.  It turns out humans do not have the same digestive enzymes as other creatures of the forest.

Of course, I’ve never had the opportunity to apply these theoretical survival skills.  I get organic berries from my local grocer and eat them without reservation.  And I’ve never been lost in the wilderness.  Like I told Mr. Gage, you would never risk getting lost in the wilderness if you just stay where you belong, well within the borders of our natural urban habitat.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Curb Your Mercedes

My insomnia is of the world-class variety, the kind that gets you qualified for the most selective treatment programs.  This does not make me feel special.  It is not like getting accepted to the Ivy League.

So sleeping, and the consequent dreaming, are just not a regular part of my life.  But last night, I had an incredibly vivid dream.  Really true to life.

In the dream, my car dies.  There is no hope of resuscitation.  I would like to get a Prius or some other environmentally-conscious vehicle.  But I am completely broke.

My anonymous boyfriend — his face is actually pixelated in the dream, like on TV to protect the identity of the whistleblower — tells me he will come up with something.  And he does.  He brings to me an adorable but older vehicle.  He brings to me a small delivery van.  He brings to me a German car.

Now, you should know that my practice of Judaism tends to be more in line with the spirit of the law and not so much the letter.  And my priorities, they are not terribly logical, even by my standards.  I make no judgment, but there are some traditions I would never violate.  I would never eat of the pig.  I would never tattoo on my body.  And I would never drive a German car.

Anyway, back to the dream.  I tell the boyfriend that I would not drive a German car.  I am thinking that I must have told him this before, probably many times, but even if I didn’t mention, he really should just know.  I tell him we have to take it back.

I instruct him to get behind the wheel.  Just sitting in the passenger seat is bad enough.  OK, we go in the car and make the beeline.  Right into the telephone pole.  I am sure we deserve this fate.  I mean, what were we thinking?  Driving a German car?

He asks me to wait while he goes to the nearby service station.  So I stand beside the car in the heart of downtown, where you always bump with the people you know.  I try to hide behind the car.  All I can think is G-d forbid somebody sees me by the Hitlermobile.

Let’s face it, I have some real problems in my dream.  My bank account has no money.  My boyfriend has no face.  My car has no insurance.  But my biggest concern?  That someone should think I am not a good Jew.  And then it starts to rain.

This morning, I recount the dream to a friend who laughs heartily and tells me the dream reminds him an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

On the show, Larry and Jeff really like this Palestinian restaurant.  But they know their Jewish friends would feel to eat there, it’s a terrible affront on Israel.  And the place is next door a Jewish deli, so they worry someone should pass by and see them.

As for me, guess if you’re gonna live a sit-com life, you’re gonna dream a sit-com dream.

© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Come Saturday Morning

When we were kids, we rarely got to do normal Saturday morning activities because we had to go to shul.

Five times a week we had to go to shul, but Saturday mornings were the most painful.  The services were interminably long and conducted almost entirely in Hebrew.  Even worse, in those days women and girls were not allowed to participate.  At all.  Unless you count setting out the herring and schnapps for kiddish.

So, while the goyishe kids were doing goyishe things like playing sports and —

Actually, we did not know how the goyim spent their time besides playing sports and trimming trees.  Nor did we know why they had to trim trees that had been chopped down dead and could not possibly grow any wayward branches.  Anyway, while we were stuck in shul, we were sure the goyim were having all kinds of fun.

We did know one thing the goyim got to do on Saturday mornings.  They got to watch cartoons.  Hours and hours of cartoons.  And word on the street was that these Saturday morning cartoons were sooo much better than the “classics” rerun ad infinitum weekday afternoons.  Bugs Bunny?  Please.

Back in such ancient times, there were no VCRs, much less DVRs or TV web sites, so the only way to see these shows was to be at home on Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, there were only two reliable excuses for missing shul: vomit and blizzard.  Alas, these two events were as unlikely as they were undesirable.

Truthfully, we could do without Fat Albert and Scooby-Doo.  My mother had already conditioned us to abhor all human adipose and adore only small dogs.

No, it was The Jackson 5 we were dying to see!  Of course, Michael danced even better in real life than in cartoon life, but he was darling either way and certainly this girl’s pre-teen dream!

So it turns out the complete series of animated Jackson 5 videos is now available by DVD. But somehow it doesn’t interest me.

When the show premiered in 1971, my demographic profile made me the ideal target audience.  Today, not so much.  And it’s kind of sad to see Michael as an innocent youngster now that we know the unfortunate details of his adult life.  Besides, the forbidden fruits of childhood, mostly they don’t age so well.  SpaghettiOs?  Panty hose?  Tiny nose?  No!  No!  No!

Maybe it’s best we leave the past in its place.  Still, just a little taste, it wouldn’t hurt…

Oh, darling, give me more chance!  Oh, Michael, you and me both.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Ethical Eating

Living in the Bay Area so many years, you come to expect everyone you meet has got some kind of dietary “preferences” for reasons of health, ethics, religion, or neurosis.  At last year’s Passover Seder, for example, one of the guests wanted to ensure the matzah balls were made with local, organic, free-range eggs.  This kind of thing.

So I was at the airport, waiting at the gate for my flight.  Most people were screen-watching, but I was people-watching.  In particular, my attention was drawn to a group of Asian men who appeared to be Buddhist monks.  Well, they were styled as such with the red robes and the shaved heads.

The junior disciples opened some brown paper bags and offered containers of food to the senior monk.  Using chopsticks, the chief brought a plain green cooked vegetable to his face — maybe spinach or seaweed or kale — sniffed, but did not eat.  He seemed displeased and whispered a few words.  The novice monks took all the containers and threw them in the trash.

Though I knew very little about Buddhism, I assumed the food could not be eaten because it contained animal ingredients or was impure in some other way.  Anyway, some of the apostles left, presumably in search of more appropriate fare.

They were not going to find any vegan cuisine at this particular terminal, and it occurred to me that this might be the last chance the elderly man would have to eat for a very long time.  The airplane’s galley wasn’t likely to have any acceptable options, and it could be hours and hours before they reached their destination of Laos or Mongolia or wherever they were headed.

Soon, the young men came back bearing several personal-sized pizzas.  The leader opened a box, lifted a slice — pepperoni — and took a bite.  In a few moments, everyone was eating and laughing.  Clearly, they had not been the least bit concerned about the rectitude (or cholesterol) of their meal.  Really, the whole episode reminded me of a commercial for the Pizza Hut.

I was laughing, too.  Partly at the irony, but mostly at myself.  We all know what happens when you make assumptions.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Summer Camp

They don’t let you exercise at Eating Disorders Camp.  They don’t let you do much of anything but sit around and eat and talk about eating.

And the food is really, really bad.  Hospital food bad.  If they are so desperate for you to eat, you’d think they’d give you some more appetizing options.  But they don’t.

They do give you options, but I cried “Kosher!” and pleaded “Vegetarian!” and so was able to choose the same menu every day.

For breakfast, I had raisin bran and banana and (whole) milk.  They don’t allow coffee; G-d forbid the caffeine might stimulate your metabolism a little bit.

For lunch, it was fruit plate; a soggy scoop of cottage cheese, slices of under-ripe cantaloupe and honeydew, a few red grapes.

For dinner, the cheese plate; a sleeve of Saltine crackers, a package of Kraft “cheese” squares, desiccated sticks of carrot and celery, some unspecified dip-like substance.

Of course, each meal was washed down with an Ensure chaser; a completely artificial, chemically-tasting form of liquid sustenance.  To add insult to injury, they would always bring me Strawberry, the most disgusting flavor by far.

Note.  You may be thinking I got off easy, that this menu would qualify as a weight loss plan by any normal standard, but this was not the case.  The quantity of food so exceeded even my non-anorexic diet that I gained weight at a depressingly rapid rate.

Each meal came with a paper form listing all of the items on the plate.  After ingesting what we could tolerate and rearranging the rest, an orderly would come around to complete the checklist by filling-in the estimated percentage we had consumed of each foodstuff.

If we passed and it was lunch, and only if we passed and it was lunch, we could go outside to the courtyard for the remainder of the hour.  This was a much-desired privilege; fresh air and sunshine, albeit for a short while, was a very welcome respite from the dingy, institutional environment.

During this recess, we were supervised, in order to prevent any unnecessary burning of calories.  There was a swing set, however, and on some of the days I was able to coax the Shaynas — three attractive, accomplished young women, all with the same name — to join me for a gleeful arc through the air.

Truthfully, I felt like something of a den mother.  Though past forty, I was not nearly the oldest; a few of the campers were into their fifties.  But unlike a fine wine, anorexics and bulimics do not age well, so except for the co-eds and me, the rest of our group was more-or-less inanimate.

One day, it happened they were short on staff and we were left unguarded during the after-lunch interlude.  A few of the girls took advantage of this unexpected freedom to pace the perimeter.  Others discussed strategies for making an escape, but were too sapped to scale the fence.

Suddenly, one of the prisoners called out that she had found a football.  A football?  How a ball of any variety had found its way into our gated community was a mystery of epic proportion and surely an act of subversion.  While uninteresting in any other context; to us, there and then, a football was sheer delight.

Immediately, I threw my arms in the air and shouted “Anorexics against the Bulimics!” and the girls started dividing themselves into teams according to diagnostic code.

As soon as the words passed my lips, however, I realized this was a very bad idea.  I mean, most of us anorexics could be knocked down by a mild breeze.  And the bulimics, well, more than a few of them were built to play the offensive line.

No, this would make for a very lopsided and dangerous scrimmage indeed.  It was my intention to reconfigure the field, but before I could say anything, our sentry was back on duty.  In an instant, the football was confiscated and we were led back to the sterile, florescent day room.

The weeks dragged and I didn’t get much from this supposedly salubrious setting.  The counselors weren’t terribly engaging and the campers were dreadfully disconnected.  Anyway, my issues were already well-understood, and in all honesty, dangerous as my disordered thinking might have been, I just really, really liked being anorexic.

Turns out that not eating was almost effortless for me.  Friends from shul would confess they couldn’t possibly fast a full day for Yom Kippur.  One day?  Please.  I never counted calories or looked for “thinspiration”.  I just ate very lightly and exercised very vigorously.

Most women have no idea how good it feels to go by the Macy’s Petite department and find a size 0 is too big.  I could do yoga like nobody’s business; it is very easy to twist about when there is nothing to get in the way.  My mind was free, no longer needing to worry about my weight all day long.

And the positive reinforcement was out of this world.  In the locker room at my gym, women — women! — would come over to say I had a beautiful body or to ask if I danced ballet.  Men appreciated me in a way I could never have imagined prior to achieving this sylphlike status.

Though I did not enjoy the constant medical attention, it was very convenient not to get my period.  Also, there is a slight light-headedness that comes with malnourishment that is surprisingly pleasant.  The euphoria overwhelmed the fainting spells, serious symptoms, severe side effects, and well-intentioned interventions.

While this was a miserable way to spend the season, my doctor had decreed the cost of my liberty would be 100 lbs.  It was an exorbitant price to pay, seemingly impossible, but like so many others sent to summer camp against their will, more than anything, I just wanted to go home.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Christmas in California

Like most regional ethnic groups, the New York Jewish people have their own special holiday traditions.  For Christmas, we eat Chinese food and watch Jewish movies.  Chinese food because the Chinese restaurants are open and uncrowded.  Jewish movies because the Jewish movies make us feel like we are the stars of the day.

Some of my Christmas-observing friends think this is a sad way to spend the “best” day of the year.  It is not.  Despite the sensory overload of the season, I do not feel left out of the festivities and I enjoy the solidarity of sharing the day with people who believe as I do.

Christmas arrived shortly after we moved to Palo Alto.  We ate Chinese at the Su Hong and saw The Garden of the Finzi-Continis at the Guild, both nearby in Menlo Park.  The restaurant and the theater were mostly empty, but still, it was comforting to keep the tradition alive and know that most of the other patrons were probably landesman “celebrating” the holiday in the familiar fashion.

The next Christmas, having spent a year in California, we were more assimilated.  We went mainstream, driving to the mega-plex to watch Titanic.  We planned to see the earliest show, but when we arrived, the place was positively jam-packed with people, the majority of whom were clearly not like-minded Jews.

Apparently, people of all faiths need to get out of the house after a few hours with the relations.

Anyway, the matinee was sold out so we got tickets for a later show and took the car to find a Chinese lunch spot.  Except we didn’t.  Find any Chinese food.  The only restaurant open for business was the always open Denny’s, where they didn’t even serve any faux-Chinese food like “Chinese chicken salad” or “Asian stir-fry”.  All in all, it was a very goyishe Christmas.

The next year, we felt a desperate need to return to our roots so we got tickets to Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in San Francisco, advertised as “Jewish comedy in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas”.  It sounded perfect.  The surprise headline performer turned out to be Margaret Cho.  Alas, her style lacked that, umm, Hebraic sensibility.

Each year, we tried a different approach, never quite recapturing that old heymishe feeling.  One year, we went to the JCC.  They didn’t have enough Chinese food for everyone — who ever heard a Jewish affair should run out of food?  A shandeh!  And if that wasn’t enough already, the projector failed in the middle of the Israeli film — alright, we all know a Jewish gathering where everyone can tell you how to fix whatever is broken but no one has any practical experience handling a screwdriver.

Perhaps no matter your heritage, no matter the holiday, things never turn out quite the way you remember.  But what could possibly be better than a new story (and a chance to kvetch a little besides)?

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Left at the Rotary

Today I had a pleasant chat with a woman who was visiting California from New England.  We got to talking food and she mentioned that we seem to eat avocado with every meal out here, no matter the cuisine.

After you’ve been living someplace for a time, you no longer notice the various regional quirks that may seem odd to a newcomer.  It got me remembering some of my own experiences when I, too, was a stranger in a strange land.

After graduate school, I moved to Boston to take a plummy position with an on-fire firm.  There was so much to do that first day — so much to get — essentials for the apartment, clothes for the job, et cetera and so on and so forth.

My first stop was the market.  I start to fill my cart with the usual basics: milk, bread, this and that.  I get to the eggs and notice all the eggs are brown.  So, I find the dairy clerk to ask for help…

Me to Clerk:  Excuse me, I’m looking for the eggs.

Clerk to me:  They’re right here, miss.  [He points to the brown eggs.]

Me to Clerk:  I’m sorry, I’m looking for the regular eggs.

Clerk to me:  Those are the regular eggs.

Me to Clerk:  No, I mean the regular chicken eggs.

Clerk to me:  Those are the regular chicken eggs.

Me to Clerk:  But they’re brown.  [This I say in the “eww” fashion.]

The clerk informed me that all the chicken eggs in New England are brown and that white eggs come from far away and are not as fresh.  Who knew?

So back to the apartment where I put the brown eggs away and get ready for the clothes part.  My friend had advised me to get a blue suit to make a good impression for my first day at work.

I consulted the phone book (this is before the internet) where I learned there is no Macy’s.  No Macy’s?  Where were we?  Antarctica?  It was certainly cold enough.

There was a place called Filene’s (not the legendary Basement) which seemed kind of Macy’s-like.  I called the store to ask the switchboard for directions (there were no cell phones, there was no GPS)…

Me to Switchboard:  Blah, blah, blah.

Switchboard to me:  Blah, blah, blah.

Me to Switchboard:  Uh-huh, uh-huh.  [Furiously writing down the directions.]

Switchboard to me:  Blah, blah, blah.  When you get to the rotary, go to the left.

Me to Switchboard:  The rotary?

Switchboard to me:  Yes, left at the rotary.

Me to Switchboard:  [Thinking the “rotary” must be a building that houses the Rotary Club]  What does it look like?

Switchboard to me:  It’s a rotary.  It looks like a rotary.

Me to Switchboard:  Well, is it tall?

Switchboard to me:  No, it’s a rotary!  It’s flat.  [She is clearly exasperated with me.]

Me to Switchboard:  I’m sorry but I have no idea what you mean when you say “rotary”.

Switchboard to me:  Rotary.  ROTARY.  It’s when the road makes a circle.

Me to Switchboard:  Oooh!  A traffic circle!  [I had seen one in upstate New York.]

Well, I did find the Filene’s and I did buy a suit which I wore the next day.  So there I was, all junior executive in my new ensemble, but the co-workers kept giving me the wide-eyed appraisal all day.

At first, I didn’t get it.  My hair and makeup were neat enough.  No runs in my stockings.  No food in my teeth.  Later, as I studied the other women, I suddenly understood.

See, my friend just said blue.  She didn’t specify navy blue.  And the suit I got was more of a sapphire blue.  OK, it was really more of an electric blue.  And it had a slit.  Guess it didn’t blend so well with that famous New England reserve.

Then again, neither did I.

© 2014 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Sponge

There was an episode on Seinfeld where Elaine finds out that her preferred prophylactic — “The Sponge” — is being discontinued.  In a panic, she races around Manhattan buying contraceptive puffs until the store shelves are empty and her closets are full.

Me, I am not so particular when it comes to the health and beauty products.  Oh, who my kidding?  I am particular about a lot things.  Many, many things.  Most things.  Well, pretty much everything.  OK, everything.  Absolutely everything.

And of all the things I am particular about — which in case I didn’t mention, is everything — I am most particular about what I put into my body.

Always the Alvarado flax seed bread.  Never the soy crunch.  Never the sprouted barley.  Paper stick Q-tips?  Yes please.  Plastic stick?  No thanks.  Only the Reach spearmint woven dental floss.  Forget the Oral-B.  Forget the cinnamon.  Forget the waxed.

And for twenty-five years — twenty-five years — Tampax slender regular tampons.  With the cardboard applicator.  In the pink box.  Period.

They were always hard to find.  It’s a small target audience.  But, now?  They are nowhere.  Poof.  Vanished.  Disappeared.

I try all the CVSs, all the Walgreens, all the Safeways.  In Palo Alto and Menlo Park.  I check with stores off the beaten path, like the Target.  I check with stores off the high road, like the Walmart.  I check and check and check and check.

Failing to complete my mission through the normal channels, I calm myself with thoughts of Amazon.com.  They have everything.  Absolutely everything.

Back home, I rush to the internet and start my search.  I feel great relief when I see the results.  Amazon to the rescue!  A three-box package!  Whew!  I expel the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

Wait a minute.  The item is marked “currently unavailable”.  My heart starts to pound.  I will get my period any day.  I have checked my gym bag.  I have checked my brief case.  I have checked my travel kit.  I have checked my car.  Dash and trunk.  Alas, I have scrounged only three slender regulars to add to my tiny stash.

It’s OK, I tell myself, it’s fine.  They’ll be back in stock for the next time.  So, you’ll use something else this month.  You just have to get through one period.  Anyone can get through one period.

I want to place an order, but there is no Add to Cart button.  I look more closely.  I fill with dread.  I read “we don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock”.  They may not know, but I do.  I have seen this sentence during previous electronic shopping excursions.  It means the slender regulars are gone.  It means they are gone for good.

I learn that Customers Who Bought Tampax Slender Regulars Also Bought Annie’s Homegrown Cheddar Bunnies.  This is not helpful.  Who in their right mind would substitute snack crackers for a tampon?  Even the crackers are whole grain and organic, no one would do this.  Please!

I start rapid cycling through web stores.  drugstore.com.  overstock.com.  costco.com.  sears.com.  No.  No.  No.  No.

Oh, I know!  I will order directly from the manufacturer.  Oh, no!  I will not.  Even Proctor & Gamble is out of stock.  What is going on here?  Was there a baby boom that produced an army of girls who are now depleting the nation’s inventory of teen size feminine hygiene products?

Suddenly, I am feeling strange.  In a way I never felt like before.  Not in my whole life.  I am not positive but I think that what I am feeling may be what is known as anxiety.  Normally, I just can’t panic.  It is not my nature.  If my vital signs were any lower, I would be dead.  Still, I think I may be in an actual tizzy.

But I am not done; no, I am far from defeated.  This fat lady has not yet begun to sing.  I am not ready to surrender because there is eBay.  Where the people go when they must find the unfindable.  When they will pay absolutely any price.

But where to look?  Under the Health & Beauty?  Or maybe by the Collectibles?

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Get the Fork!

The New York Fall 2013 Fashion Week has ended and the critics are buzzing about the styles of the upcoming season.

Good news!  My “as is” wardrobe?  A perfect fit with the hottest trends.


My cocktail dresses?  My client attire?  My casual apparel?  My workout wear?  My socks and bras?  En vogue!

Since witnessing fashion’s demands back in college, my mode has always been to stick with an easy and relaxing feel.

See, one morning, my roommates are all getting ready for the day.  Suddenly, there are loud sounds of thrashing and agony.  Danielle screams, “Pam, get the fork!”

Was Danielle having some kind of epileptic fit?  Did she need Pam to suppress her tongue?

I rush in to find Pam straddling Danielle who is lying face up on the bed.  Pam appears to be doing some kind of procedure on Danielle’s midsection.

Pam calls out to me, “Thank G-d you’re here.  We need help.”  I move closer, frantically praying that no blood has been spilled.

The unfolding drama amazes me.  The two girls are desperately pulling at Danielle’s skinny jeans.

Danielle is holding her breath and tugging at the right and left halves of the waist, struggling to clench them together.  Pam is securing Danielle’s body with her own weight, wrestling with the zipper using a fork tine inserted into the pull tab.  But it just won’t budge.  They need me to take charge of the waist.  This will free Danielle’s hands so she can raise her arms over her head to achieve the maximum stomach flatness.

So we do it.  We work together to get Danielle’s skinny jeans zipped and buttoned and we help her to her feet.  She will be standing all the livelong day.  She will be walking in slow motion.  She will be very late to all of her classes.

And me, I had seen what it takes and knew I would never become a slave to fashion.  I would always buy only comfortable clothing.  And I would always buy only clothing that I could put on and take off by myself, without assistance from a personal dresser or use of the kitchen cutlery.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

Rock the Schoolhouse!

Hard to believe, Schoolhouse Rock is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Instead of commercials, these short music videos were broadcast between the Saturday morning cartoons to give kids edu-bites about grammar, math, history, etc.

The songs were great.  When called to the blackboard for that most loathsome task of diagramming a sentence, my mind would play “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?  Hooking up words and phrases and clauses”.  And certainly anyone from my generation can still sing, I mean, recite, The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States without hesitation.

Unfortunately, Schoolhouse Rock did not cover math topics beyond multiplication.  This lack of an “advanced” curriculum would leave a sizable gap in my education.

See, I went to one of those 70s experimental-type elementary schools.  Most of the day we spent sitting on the floor in a circle, writing and performing plays with socially-relevant themes.  For example, a takeoff on The Wizard of Oz where the land of Oz was a drug-induced hallucinatory state and the horrific things that happened there were sure to convince kids to stay far away from drugs.  Needless to say, very little time was spent on math or science.

So when I started 7th grade at the junior high school, I was in for a real shock.  This sitting in the midst of a 6 x 5 checkerboard of desks listening to teachers pontificate on and on from 8:02 am until 2:41 pm really sucked the life out of me.

Especially first period pre-Algebra.  Without the basic math skills, I didn’t understand a word.  Or rather a symbol.  Soon, I was failing.  Despite my mother’s geschreis and my tutor’s exercises, I got a D and would not move on to Algebra the next year.

Anyway, the fall comes and I am repeating pre-Algebra and feeling quite ashamed.  The year starts in the now-familiar boring and droning way, but one day something interesting happens.  My 8th grade math teacher — Holla, Ms. Krone! — brings her guitar to class and teaches us math songs that she had herself written!

My favorite was called Flip, partly because I really liked the upbeat sound, and partly because I finally learned to divide the fractions.  Listen:

Well, I didn’t become some kind of mathematical maven, but I did hold my own in the many math classes that followed at the high school, college, and graduate school.

More importantly, I came to appreciate the value of math in real life.  Yeah, no one is likely to hold a gun to your head and ask you to whip out the side-angle-side postulate and prove two triangles are congruent.  But, then again, you can’t really weigh the pros and cons of taking this mortgage or that one without applying a little numerical reasoning.

It pleases me to see contemporary secondary schools are still singing for the math.  In Silver Spring MD, Jake Scott, aka 2 Pi, raps quadratic with his students.  We could use this kind of engagement in every school.  Maybe it would help stem the STEM problem.

For the message rather than the melody, my pick for best Schoolhouse Rock video is Sufferin Till Suffrage…

Oh, what the heck, if we gotta rock the schoolhouse, you know we’re gonna rock the casbah…

If you are still sitting down, something is seriously NOT KOSHA!

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.