If it was your son, would you care?

Have you looked into his eyes? My son's, I mean. The one who is having so much trouble in your math class.

I have. When I help him at night, I see the frustration in his eyes when he can't understand. I see him search my face, fearful of my disappointment, my criticism when he gets the problem wrong after I've explained it so many times.

I see in his eyes the desire to give up. Around his lips I see the sadness and creeping despair.

I watch the tension in his forehead as he tries so hard to understand. I watch his fingers turn white as he grips his pencil tight with the hope that this time — this time — the pencil won't betray him and will write the answers correctly on the page.

Do you look at him in the classroom when you teach him? Do you look in his eyes and see how the disappointment and frustration threaten to reach into his soul? To break his heart? Can you see his failure harden into the foundation of his character?

I ask you: Do you see how hard he tries? How much he wants to please? How his self-esteem is crumbling each time he can't remember seven times eight equals fifty six? He knows more painfully than you that he's tried to learn this five hundred and sixty times and still forgets.

I see how hard he tries. I see it all. When I sit with him at night I can barely continue with our homework session as I watch his freckled face struggle to remember four times six equals twenty-four and my heart breaks into as many pieces.

And so we try to joke and laugh. I tell him that people learn at different speeds and different times. I tell him about his older brother who didn't learn to read till he was eight and then, when it was his time, he learned to read in only three months and went straight to the top of his class that year.

I tell him that some babies get toilet trained at one year, and some at two, and some not till three or four but that you're not likely to see a sixteen-year-old in diapers. And he laughs. I see his eyes brighten a little. His forehead relax. And as he lets go of his tension he seems to focus more, to remember better.

But still it is not enough. And I find myself hating the multiplication tables for hurting my son. Division has become my enemy. Sixty four divided by eight is simply more than I can tolerate. Eighty one divided by nine is more than any nine-year-old should have to deal with.

And I sometimes blame you. Do you teach him well enough? Sometimes I'm angry that you've criticized and made him feel bad. But then I think that you are simply there to blame while I'm feeling so bad for my sweet little boy.

Do you know how sweet he is? My son.

Last night, we fought until he finally sat to do his math. Then we sat for an hour and a half going over three times three equals nine, nine divided by three is three. We put kidney beans on the table and made them into students in a class, candies for each student, shekels for the store, all the things that can be divided and multiplied, estimated and rounded. Sometimes we used a calculator, anything to help him see the numbers again and again. Finally his eyes turned red, his eyelids drooped and he said: "Ta, I'm too tired. Can I go to bed now?"

Dressed in his pajamas he came to kiss me good night. "Y'know Ta", he said, "I hate when I have to stop playing to do homework with you. But then, when we do it, I like it so much I don't want to stop."

Do you know how much my heart jumped with these words, how hard I prayed last night that you will give him a good grade on his math test this morning?

To tell you the truth I don't care if he does the problem right or wrong. It wouldn't bother me at all if just for today seven times eight equaled fifty-four or fifty-two or fifty-six or forty-eight. As far as I'm concerned two plus two doesn't have to equal four if it means that my son will feel good about himself, if he'll want to continue trying, if he'll begin to think of himself as smart and courageous and capable.

Is five plus five really ten? Could it not be twelve just once for the sake of my boy? For the sake of his well-being? Does math care if it is done correctly, or is it only you? Would the numbers take offense, or is it only your rigidity that forces five to be the impossible answer to two times two? Are these numbers worth a life? A future?

Do you ask yourself these questions when you grade his test?

If you looked in his eyes you would. If you loved him you would.

Because, you see, love is strong enough to allow five times zero to be five instead of zero just this once.

If it was your son, would you care?

I don't ask you to love my son as I do. Nor that you grade his papers unfairly. I want him to do his math correctly and to understand the importance of exactitude in all things and ways.

Only please, look into his eyes. While the numbers may not change, the way you teach him might. Though his answers may be flawed, you'll see that his heart is not. Though it may take time for him to learn, you'll see how very hard he tries. And when you grade him — do it in such a way that only the numbers are judged and not the boy. Five plus five may always be ten, four times four is always sixteen, but just make sure that whatever he writes, my boy does not add up to zero in your eyes or his.

-- a loving father