My First Counting Book

by Anton Wills-Eve

November 30th 2014

Firstly all good wishes to my Scottish friends and relations for Saint Andrew’s day. Now here is a brief little story for today

My First Counting Book

 I opened the big, coloured book, a copy of which I had given to each of the twelve pupils in my infants mathematics class. They were a special selection of four to six year-olds who were having difficulty grasping the introductory concepts of adding and subtracting. But in every other aspect of learning they were all showing real promise.

 “Turn to page one, everybody please. Now can you see the picture of John holding an apple?” Vigorous nods all round.

 “You will see in the next drawing that Mary is giving John a carrot. Underneath is what is called a mathematical symbol. It is how we show that one and one added together make two. It is written 1 + 1 = 2. Do you all understand that?

“Yes, Jean?”

“Please, Sir, why has John got two? Mary gave him a carrot, so he has one apple and one carrot. So one and one make one of each, surely.”

I looked at the child, then at the book, then muttered under my breath who wrote this rubbish?’ Then I remembered that I had. I could see the class thought Jean was very clever. So I explained.

 “Jean, it doesn’t matter what the object is that John is holding, or Mary giving. Just pretend that Mary has given John an apple, now how many apples has he got?”

“Three, Sir.” The others could see genius in Jean’s logic.

“No, Jean. He has two. He had one, received a second, so that makes two.”

“No it doesn’t, Sir, because he had two. You’re forgetting the first one that Mary added a carrot to.”

 God give me strength! “No we started from the beginning again, Jean. Forget the first apple and the carrot”.

Jake was not having this. “But, Sir. We can’t forget it, it’s in the book. Books can’t be wrong so Jean must be right.” I quickly looked back at the lovely coloured book. Yes, we were still on page one. So I asked for help.

“Does anybody agree with the book, or even begin to understand it?” The nerd of the dozen, bespectacled little Chloe,shot her hand in the air.

 “I do Sir. You are asking us to imagine that the book is wrong and Mary is really giving John an apple and so the symbol 1 + 1 = 2 means in mathematics that an apple is spelled 1 and two apples are spelled 2 and =spells, . . . . spells . . . Well it spells equals. Whatever that means.”

 It was break time. I wished sincerely that I had never written ‘the guide to teaching infants to count’ and quietly shut the book. “We’ll go to break now, children, and I’ll tell you about 2 next lesson”.

 At this Jimmy piped up. “Oh, goody, Sir. I knew you would. Last night my daddy told me all about 2 and how it could be a prime number and an even number at the same time. Can I explain to the class my proof of Goldbach’s conjecture when we resume?”

I have never been nearer to suicide.