# What to make of my high school math average (or, 0.25/20 is not so bad)

When I was 16, I burned my math exams in a bonfire. I remember holding my last ever math exam in front of my friends, on which a 0.25/20 was marked in bright-red ink, and throwing it in the fire. Feeling a rush of excitement, realizing that I will never have to endure math classes ever again. I would never have to be singled-out by my math teacher for being the worst student of the class, probably of the year, potentially of his career, ever again. Now, I look back at my math years with a more acute sense of how coming from an underprivileged background where no one monitors your homework (and checks if you successfully learnt your times table) and how internalizing a gendered form of knowledge from a very early age (you are a girl you will be drawn to humanities) is a recipe – dare I say the components of an algorithm – for mathematical disaster.

When I applied to Praxis, I was fully aware that being awarded the fellowship would be the first step of a healing journey (as dramatic as it might sound), a healing journey in which band-aids have numbers on them, and not just the fathomable computer binary 0 and 1, but also the mean-looking ones, with squared numbers and exponential functions. Praxis would mean confronting myself to coding, which would require confronting myself, to a certain extent, to mathematics. It feels as though Scholar’s Lab people have now become experts in “teaching the math basics you will need to understand for you to engage in coding” to Humanities people with a varying degree of proficiency in arithmetic. From Shane’s goofy-looking dog Rocky on the first slide of the history and genealogy of computing to constant reassurance, we were presented with a progressive complexity which made our first assignment, “write out in plain English an algorithm to sort a deck of cards” a funny and appealing game.

Now, I have to be honest and confess that I cried on my way out of the Scholar’s Lab, after this first “Introduction to Data” session. Not because someone said something wrong or made me feel bad – of course not. But because in front of this whiteboard on which were written so many numbers, I felt myself going back in time ten years earlier, blankly staring at the whiteboard in my math class, not understanding a single thing. Not because I did not want to (or perhaps unconsciously), but because I was utterly unable to comprehend what was going on. As if I was stuck in a fever dream where whatever was written down felt like a language from outer space and where someone would just keep repeating “how can you not understand this?”.

Then, I remembered the “So you want to be a wizard?” zine that Shane handed out and had us read, and its writer Julia Evans’s positive reframing of difficulty. In this programming zine, she presents bugs as learning opportunities. Bob Ross would have added – “happy accidents”. Somehow, crying after this “Introduction to Data” was a personal necessity. I needed to get my math trauma out of the way, and the deep feelings of shame, guilt, and incompetence that have been hindering me for years. I have no illusion as I know I won’t become Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Smith Friedman or Mavis Batey – I will still be bad at math, because my brain must have rewired itself differently. But now that we are being invited to learn, fail and learn from apparent failure, I know that I will hold my head high up and try, fail, learn and try again, differently. Praxis has allowed me to move on and make peace with the teenager in me who still feels the burning shame of being the last at something. Now, I can tell her that a bad math average makes for the best potential for growth. 0.25/20 is not so bad.