{Math} A times tables memory.

I have a dis­tinct mem­ory of be­ing 8 years old, or so, and be­ing handed one of those work­sheets where they ask you to mul­ti­ply num­bers up through 12x12, and be­ing viscer­ally dis­gusted by the im­plied ped­a­gogy of it. That was over a hun­dred things you were ask­ing me to mem­o­rize. On my own time. The whole rea­son I rush through my school work is so I don’t have to do any­thing when I get home. I don’t know if eight year old me swore, but this was definitely a “Screw you” mo­ment for him.

But he ac­tu­ally ended up be­ing able to do that sheet pretty quickly, at least com­pared to most of the rest of the class. There were a few kids who were faster than me, but I got the im­pres­sion they were dumb enough to have to prac­tice this in­stead of watch­ing Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy at home. Or worse, they ac­tu­ally did mem­o­rize this stuff, in­stead of prac­tice to get quick with the mul­ti­ply-num­bers-in-your-head al­gorithm like I did. (Be­cause of course no­body else in the class would be do­ing it the same way I did, just much faster. But eight-year-olds aren’t known to have par­tic­u­larly nu­anced con­cepts of self that can grace­fully ac­cept that there are other peo­ple nat­u­rally much bet­ter than them at what they do best.)

Later on, we moved up to mul­ti­ply­ing ar­bi­trary two-digit-by-one-digit num­bers, and then two-digit-by-two-digit num­bers. (I didn’t piece to­gether how un­com­mon this was un­til a few years later.) Every­one who out­paced me in the times-ta­bles speed tests were now far, far be­low me; mean­while, I just had to chain my lit­tle “mul­ti­ply-small-num­bers” men­tal mo­tion to a few “add-up-the-sums” mo­tions. 76 * 89 = 7*8*100 + 6*8*10 + 7*9*10 + 6*9. I felt like I was so clever. I started to take pride in the fact that I was now lead­ing the pack, even though I had told my­self be­fore that I didn’t care!

That is, of course, un­til the kids who were origi­nally faster than me also re­al­ized how to perform that men­tal mo­tion, and then they leapt past me in speed with the com­bined force of split-sec­ond mem­ory of times ta­bles and a quick abil­ity to perform al­gorithms.

I think by the time we were finished with the light­ning round work­sheet prac­tice, I was in the bot­tom quar­ter of the class for speed, and when I did push my­self to speed up, I’d start mak­ing care­less mis­takes like mix­ing up which one of 6*7 and 7*7 was 42 and which was 49, again?

Later in my math­e­mat­i­cal ped­a­gogy, I am tak­ing a Real Anal­y­sis course. There are two midterms in this course. The first one I did not pre­pare for at all, fal­ling into my old 8-year-old failure mode: “If I can’t just com­pute the an­swer on the spot to the ques­tion, I sort of de­serve to fail, don’t I?” I got a B-, in the lower half of the class.

The sec­ond one, I re­minded my­self of the times ta­bles kids. I got an A.