FMM 6 1 18 Lowest Common Denominator

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway.

My husband was a fan of foreign cars.  In particular, he developed a fondness for the Italian Alfa Romeo.  In our early marriage we were ignorant of how to survive in the USA and so we soon lost the little credit we had, so most of our purchases came from saving our pennies.  He would purchase the latest ‘auto trader’ and would go hunting for bargains, for possible diamonds in the rough (aka lemons!).  Of course those beautiful, complicated Italian creatures could purr like a cougar, could go from 0 to 60 in (I actually don’t remember how many seconds!), but could also rack up the dollars in the shop, as only specialists with special Italian tools could fix them when broken.

At some point we had fixed our credit enough to brave a car lot, and there he found a beauty, a GT, sleek hatch back, white with racing stripes in red and yellow.  When my mother came to visit, she would wait at the airport and look out for the ‘Lovebird’ to come and pick her up – she thought the car looked just like one of Jamaica’s own airplanes! It attracted attention alright.  Not just for its speed and cornering ability, but also for its occupants.  One night when we were out driving, just the two of us, no kids, we attracted the attention of the police.  A female cop pulled us over, and was apparently threatened by the sight of a black male with a white female.  We were soon surrounded by three or four more cop cars.

If you knew my husband, you might expect a fiery reaction to the presence of ‘the man’.  He was an Afrocentric revolutionary, aware in every fiber of his being of the unjust history of white oppression against people of color.  He had read every book by Malcolm X, George Jackson, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and then some.  But in the presence of armed authority he became the most charming, cooperative, non-threatening gentleman you would ever hope to see.  Of course he would provide his license and registration, my license, of course the officer could look in the trunk if she so desired.  But please tell, why was it you pulled us over in the first place? That we never learned.

It is through teaching Math that I have become a better teacher, I have learned the art of teaching.  There is something about numbers, about Math, that triggers all manner of anxieties and fears in some people.  Whether it is due to a bad first experience, a mean teacher or parent, or negative reinforcement, some people just lose all self-confidence when confronted with math problems.  I have to begin with reminders of how numbers are our friend, and we use them in everyday life without thinking we are doing math.  In nursing school we don’t even call it Math, we call it dosage calculation, a reminder that the computations we are doing relate to a practical application.  And because of that, some of the rules change according to context.  Rounding is a big challenge, because we don’t have one rule that fits all problems.  If we are pulling up a volume of medicine that is less than one milliliter, we round to the nearest hundredth (insulin is administered in hundredths of a milliliter).  Larger volumes may be rounded to the nearest tenth, or even whole number.

There are those to whom numbers, patterns, number relationships come easy, those who love math games like sudoku, who actually have fun and enjoy the challenge.  Others remain unconvinced, want some magic way to make all math problems a matter of plugging numbers into a formula without really understanding what they are doing.  And word problems are the worst.  And of course, life is one big word problem!  There is no physician order which is written as a mathematical equation. They are all written as word problems!

When I first started teaching dosage calculation, I had to go to the textbook, because I was one of those who could ‘see’ the answer without knowing how I got there.  I was one of those who was impatient with those who couldn’t do addition and subtraction, multiplication and division without a calculator (who teaches times tables any longer?).  I had to learn patience, compassion, empathy and psychoanalysis if I was going to be able to help students develop confidence and math skills.  Which made me a far better teacher.

One of those phrases that I had to relearn as I reviewed basic mathematical principles had to do with fractions (another phobia of many students, let’s not even talk about how you can kill someone with a decimal point!).  The terms lowest (or least) common denominator (LCD) and highest common factor (HCF) came into my terminology.  It strikes me that we are living in a time of lows.  We have a leader who has brought the conversation, divisions between people, ways of treating those who are considered ‘others’ to a new low.  And there are many who feel comfortable dwelling in this low place, this place of least desirable traits and behaviors.  When even those who call themselves Christians feel that it is ok to treat any human being as if they are animals.  They think it is ok to assume the worst of people of color, merely because of the color of their skin, or their clothes, or their presence in a harmless environment like a common room in a University.  It is time for a radical change.

It is time for all of us to raise the bar, and demonstrate our highest common factors.  There are so many stories of hope and change, of people (of all races) who are coming together to protest the despicable and outrageous treatment of migrant families at the border.  We have to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep the pressure on until decency and justice is restored.  We are better than this.

This Friday morning I am dreaming of a world where everyone can drive a flashy car without startling a police reaction; where our young (black and brown) men can dress, talk, act as crazy as they want without fear of provoking the discomfort of random (white) women; where we don’t have to have ‘the talk’ with young black man, about how to behave when out in public.  It’s been a long time coming, but I hope that soon, change gonna come.

Have a wonderful weekend, Family!

One Love!


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