true confessions of an editor

Part of the blessing/challenge of having two sisters is that you never know when exactly they’re going to spill the beans about what you were like as a child. And you certainly never know to whom they’re going to spill those beans. So, sometimes it’s good to ‘fess up before they get a chance to let the cat out of the bag, to preemptively strike.

So, here it is: I cheated at math in grade school for four years straight.

I hated math in middle school. Numbers were awful, but numbers AND letters were outright torture. To add an extra measure of, um, something, my teacher was my mom, and we had a rocky start to homeschooling.

{Side note: I am a huge proponent of homeschooling. I am not a huge proponent of math.}

I’m really to be blamed for that rough first year. I made Mom mad . . . a lot. Dad used to take pictures of us sitting at the kitchen table right after Mom had yelled at me for lipping off about how useless I thought her science assignment was. The pictures are funny now. Back then, not so much. Mom is looking at me like it’s a good thing there’s a huge oak table between her hands and my neck, and I’m looking like the chubby, uncomfortable, clueless trainwreck I was.

I was also bad at math. I think my parents knew it but they weren’t really sure how to make me better at it. Once, I missed 13 out of 20 questions on a math assignment. My dad called me downstairs and said I was in trouble for doing so poorly. My punishment? I didn’t get to read for a whole week.

Admittedly, it was a lame punishment. I mean, who forbids his child from learning for a week? Dad knew what he was doing though. I loved to read. I hated math. It was a miserable week.

{I’d also like to note that being the dumb child that I was, I never just snuck upstairs to my room and read. No one would have known. Apparently I have a conscience that works in overdrive.}

Eventually, to keep the peace, I think, Mom started letting me do more and more work on my own. She still graded papers and looked over assignments, but generally I did the homework and figured the lesson out myself.
Except when it came to math. I tried diligently to keep up with the assignments for the first, oh, three days. Then I discovered that the answers to the odd problems were in the back of the book. Then I discovered that the answers to all the problems, and to all the tests, were in the back of Mom’s book. Solution? Use Mom’s book.
Let this be a lesson: if you’re going to cheat, make it believable. Make sure you miss a few problems each day. And make sure that your test scores vacillate between high Bs and low As. It will slide you under the radar like you wouldn’t believe.
Except until your parents put you in a private high school. It turns out you have to take math classes in those places too.


Good news: I passed all of them, even Calculus. My saving grace? Going to a private CHRISTIAN school. The essay question—worth half of the points on the final Calc 2 essay—was how I saw God in math. Score! You better believe that I wrote the best dang eloquent essay on math you’ve ever heard in your sweet life. I was destined to be an English major.

Today, I can balance my checkbook, pay my own bills, and figure out the tip with enough time. I’ve also supplied my sisters with an endless supply of math jokes and the ability to make my mom groan just by saying the word math.

The moral of the story? Cheaters really can prosper.

4 thoughts on “true confessions of an editor

  1. I remember getting on the A Honor Roll the second quarter in 8th Grade public school, then getting an F on my report card in Math the next quarter. I got caught cheating by the teacher during an Algebra test. Yes, the entire class was doing it too but that’s not an excuse. And I didn’t find out I was getting an F until the report cards came out at the end of the quarter. The Math teacher happened to be a Christian (Disciples of Christ) pastor; when my mom ordered me to go to him for tutoring after seeing my grades he refused and said “what’s done is done.” I squeaked by the next quarter never quite catching up with the rest of the class. I went on to take four years of Math in high school, plus Biology, Chemistry and Physics, but I never cared much about Math and Science after Junior High and my grades in those subjects through High School were mediocre. I used to copy my friend and future college roommate’s Advanced Math/Pre-Calculus homework the hour before class our Senior year (he ended up becoming our Salutatorian and went on to med school).

    On the other hand, when I was moved from a Lutheran day school to public school, the public school teachers didn’t recognize the textbooks we used in the more advanced Lutheran school. I was placed in the remedial reading class in 3rd Grade. The teachers were amazed how much I improved over the years. In 5th Grade I was rated at the 11th Grade reading level. By 6th Grade I was put in the advanced English class. Apparently they must have thought they had something to do with that, when they’d actually stifled my learning for three years (homeschooling does sound like a great idea). My major during my short time at college happened to be English and I worked as an English Composition tutor for a semester at our library’s writing center.

  2. Nice article. As a “math whiz” I can tell you that “getting the right answer” is only a part of math. Mathematics is a language system. Just as there are many ways to construct a sentence, there are many paths to the “right answer.” Emphasis on getting the “right answer” simply leads to the “cheating” you described. In fact, “cheating” might be a great way to learn. Knowing the “right answer,” you can work backwards and figure out how you got there. Most homeschool parents are not capable of teaching math in a say that stimulates the mathematical imagination. I write this in honor of Mr. Merwick, my AP Calculus teacher in high school. A hero.

  3. You can ask my mom about this, but I used to sit at the table for hours, sobbing over my math. “Yeah, I KNOW you do it that way, but WHY?! Tell me whhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” Then she let me ignore it for most of high school and I got it all done in the couple months before the SAT with minimal tears and maximum retention. The magic of unschooling. :o)

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