Partial to Home: A teacher's legacy

Birney Imes

OK, here's a math problem for you, one I was faced with one day last week. A 1-cubic-foot bag of topsoil at a big box store costs \$1.50. A yard of topsoil from the Lowndes County Co-Op is \$40.

Assuming all topsoils are created equal -- something they are decidedly not -- which is the better deal? Note: These prices are approximate, and later I would learn that the front-end loader scoopful the Co-Op charges \$40 for is closer to a yard and a half.

But, back to the original question. The sack from the big box store is a cubic foot. How many of those cubic-foot sacks are in a yard? The answer is 27. That's three (the number of feet in a yard) cubed or 3x3x3. OK, so how much will 27 bags of topsoil cost at the big box store cost? That's not so difficult; 27 (for the dollar), plus half of 27 (for the \$.50). Add 27 and 13.5 and you've got \$40.50 for 27 bags of topsoil.

The Co-Op wins by a nose. At least it does in this semi-hypothetical example. It took me a minute to figure out the cubic feet in a yard, but after that, it was easy.

I have Pauline Brandon, my fourth grade teacher at Demonstration School, to thank for this. Mrs. Brandon -- as did many of the teachers at Dem School -- had few reservations about deviating from the textbook. In today's public schools obsessed with testing, I fear that practice is rare.

Mrs. Brandon taught us fourth graders how to solve all manner of math problems in our head. We played numbers as though they were LEGOs. I doubt I'm the only one of her charges still using this skill I've used all my life.

I showed my grandson how to check his math by casting out nines, a technique Mrs. Brandon taught us. He looked at me as though I'd taken off my top hat to reveal a white dove sitting on my head. He grinned big when he learned how to do it.

Maybe more importantly, Mrs. Brandon gave us the confidence to take these computational flights of fancy. Once you learn that stuff, it's always with you. I know a woman with an accounting degree, who when faced with figuring out 10 percent of a number, whips out her calculator.

It's really no big deal once you get the hang of it. Often while waiting on a checkout person, I'll figure out the sales tax (weird, I know). Half of 10 percent plus 1 percent twice. The few times I've told the cashier what the sales tax was going to be, they have looked at me as though I had supernatural powers.

All the credit goes to Mrs. Brandon.

Two other classes in my K-12 career that have had equally lasting effect, typing and Betty Carnes' 10th grade geometry class.

Don't remember my typing teacher and doubt I can maintain the 40 words per minute speed that was the course requirement, but I'm using those skills learned as a junior at S.D. Lee High as I write this column.

Mrs. Carnes was wonderful. In the classroom she assumed a drill-sergeant demeanor, a trait that kept students focused. Maybe I had a proclivity for math because the stuff was fun, proving theorems, figuring stuff out.

But a lot of it was the teacher, in the cases of Mmes. Brandon and Carnes, both were women who commanded your attention and once they had it, had the intelligence and personality to hold it.

I don't know what kids are getting in schools these days, but I hope in their 12 or so years and dozens of teachers, they'll have a Pauline Brandon or a Betty Carnes.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.