The stories of the Math Winnebago

The Math Winnebago. A secret, mandatory club that no ten-year-old wanted to belong to, this mathmobile parked itself, part time, outside the private school. And we, the un-matheletes — while others played and explored, while they ran or laughed — we long divided. Like a required LibraryMobile, we were required to study there, once per week, to brush up on equations, long division, repetition among the wood panel walls and kitchenette. Sometimes there was even Tang. Yet because it was separate from the school, a separate vehicle no less, it implied the learning was something to be ashamed of. If admitting “I don’t know” banished one to Winnebago-status, then it’s better to pretend to know. Better to not ask questions.

Whatever you think about your past, you have Winnebagos behind you. You too may have been an un-mathelete, or a spelling bee non-winner, a chess dis-champion. The expectations of a caring structure — a teacher, a coach, a grandparent — guided you toward extra help.

H for help

See also:
Mathematics of the Tootsie Pop

These small moments of how “don’t know” were fostered are crucial — especially then, but even now. Did we or do we now hide them, thinking that knowing positions us as better somehow. Math: easy. Chess: no problem. Haiku: done. Scoping projects: piece of cake. Meanwhile we want to say “don’t know” or “need help.”

Today, extracurricular courses have become more than socially acceptable, they’re fashionable; and in light of 10,000 hours, expertise is something we know is gained with practice. There is no Winnebago walk of shame.

I don’t know

There is, however, still a stigma of the moment learning commences. We are still afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Asking good questions, something intuitive to us once, becomes something we have to relearn. Yet starting with unknowns opens up more than it shuts down. It’s multiplication, not subtraction. I don’t know is, in fact, the most important secret to reveal.

Everyone has a Winnebago in their closet. But once it’s out, it looks a lot more like a story. And everyone has a good one to share.