Mrs. Abernathy called the roomful of eleven-year-olds to order and told them to open their math books to page thirty-one. Her eyes scanned the class and came to rest on a stocky boy beneath a dome of golden hair, who was making grotesque faces at a girl.
“Donald! What is the square root of a hundred and forty-four?”
The boy turned his attention to the teacher with sleepy-eyed indifference. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“What is the square root of a hundred and forty-four?”
“Do I know the square root of a hundred and forty-four? Is that what you’re asking me? Of course I do. It’s absurd that you would even ask me that.”
“Please tell the class what it is.”
“You want ME to tell the class? Excuse me—aren’t you supposed to be the teacher? I think we can all agree that, if anyone around here is going to tell the class the square root of a hundred and forty-four, you should be the one to do it. If you even know the square root of a hundred and forty-four—which, frankly, I have my doubts.”
This last phrase was delivered to three boys sitting across the aisle from the blond boy. They giggled.
“Do you know the answer, Donald?”
“Do I know the answer? Lady, I am super-smart. My I.Q. is, like, many multiples of the square root of a hundred and forty-four. Beyond anything you have seen in this grammar school, believe me.”
“Then you can tell us the square root of a hundred and forty-four.”
“Listen, I know the square root of a hundred and forty-four. I have known it for YEARS.”
“I don’t do hypotheticals.”
“The square root of a hundred and forty-four is not hypothetical.”
“Oh, really? Says who? Has anybody here ever seen a square root? No? I didn’t think so. People, it’s your parents, the taxpayers, who are paying this woman’s salary. Money that could be going to you personally, for Three Musketeers bars, is lining the pocket of this person so that she can stand here asking me to do her job for her. May I be honest? It sickens me.”
“Donald, would you like to go to the principal’s office?”
“Let me tell you something: the principal and I get along great. He respects me, the principal. We see eye to eye on many, many subjects. I wouldn’t mind sitting down with the principal and discussing a few issues pertaining to how this class is being run. I think the principal would be very interested in what I would have to tell him.”
“Are you threatening me, Donald?”
“Threatening you? Whoa! Where did that come from?” Donald turned to the boys across the aisle and said, out of the side of his mouth, “Must be somebody’s time of the month.”
“Donald, what is the square root of a hundred and forty-four?”
“You keep asking the same question! We’ve been over this and over this. I’m starting to wonder if there’s something else going on here. I’m wondering if perhaps someone is not properly accredited as a math teacher. It’s just a question.”
“Sit down, Donald. I am giving you an F.”
"I don't think so!" He turns to speak to the students seated behind him.
“Look, I have demonstrated many, many times that I am a super math brain. I knew the square root of a hundred and forty-four before anybody was even talking about the square root of a hundred and forty-four.”
“What is it?” the teacher asked.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Abernathy. When you hear my answer, you are going to love it so much. You are going to be very, very happy.”
“Good. What is your answer?”
“The square root of a hundred and forty-four.”
“I am so sick of these gotcha questions.”
(The New Yorker Magazine)
(The New Yorker Magazine)