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Coffee with Mimi

By MIMI BECKER

Community columnist

Science and math, as academic disciplines, were a love-hate relationship for me. Through the years I generally seemed to gravitate, when given a choice, toward history, reading and art, the arts and letters as they were called.  

But, experiencing that which isn’t so comfortable in the beginning, may end up surprisingly beneficial in the end. 

The year I entered high school, the school system had adopted a grand experiment which selected a group of freshmen who would embark on a particular course of study. Maybe we were the least likely to object to the plan. 

The plan involved a predetermined schedule of courses which would equate to what is now an Advanced Placement curriculum. 

This was the late ‘60s. Math and science were the thing. We were headed to the moon and would explore the heavens beyond. The selected group had in some way been identified as having promising math and science skills.

I must have been meant to be comic relief in the high stress environment. I also didn’t mind doing the dishes in the science lab, a fact which could not have been known at the time, but became my strategy to get out of study hall, which I disliked more than just about any other choice available.

I graduated high school with an advanced math and science diploma. I have proof. I came across my diploma in a fit of filing and organizing. It still amazes me.  

While the class schedules were heavy on the math and science every year, the regimen did allow one period of student choice which they called an elective.  

In junior high, I was a newbie to the public school system having been educated thus far in a quite unique church school.

My first year in public school was eighth grade. I’m sure you will remember that, at that time, a girl must take a home economics class.

Having avoided, through no effort of my own, home ec in seventh grade, clearly I must be afforded the opportunity to experience said class in eighth grade. There was just the one chance to get me before I escaped to high school.

About a week or so into the year, it became abundantly clear to me that I would hate home economics just about as much as anything in eighth grade. True, it would have been an easy grade.

By this time, I could make any item of clothing in the curriculum. I could sew on a button and hem a dress. I could cook some, certainly enough to satisfy the expectations of the eighth grade home economics curriculum as I envisioned it looming ahead of me day after day.

When the school office staff sent out word that an office aide was needed just the period I needed to escape, I probably knocked down a person or two to sign up.

Perhaps this is where it started, this thing about numbers which was to later land me in THE target group.

You see, one of the jobs of an office aide was to fetch a student from class when a parent needed to check him/her out or another teacher had some notion to see him/her.

The student locator was a file drawer of individual cards each containing a student’s name, rank, serial number and location every minute of the school day. While not a time consuming task to thumb through the cards which were, of course, filed alphabetically, it kept me from my main goal which was to get out of the office on an errand, any errand.  

In short order, I could locate any student in the school at any time of the day without referring to the card file. School people must have thought that was evidence of an analytical mind; one which exhibited powers of mathematical and scientific thinking.

Not really, it was just a way to avoid what I didn’t want to do, which was take home ec.

So, that elective period in high school offered a couple options for a freshman; home ec and study hall. Thank you, I’ll wash dishes in the chemistry lab.  

My performance in science and math classes was consistent, i.e., I held onto the bottom of the list day in and day out.

I’ll never forget the day the physics teacher, when returning a test, announced that only one student had gotten a 100%. No big surprise, practically no one ever got a perfect score. This time, though, it was me. The rest of the class was mortified.  

The mood got distinctively better when it was discovered that the teacher had made a mistake on my paper.

In the universe of math and science, the ship was righted. This time, I wasn’t all the way at the bottom. I did get to keep the grade, teacher’s error and all that being fair. 

In the end, I somehow got it enough. Math was my best score on the ACT, science was two points behind.

Stuck in the middle were history and reading, the arts and letters, so to speak. Thankfully, there was no score for home ec.