RIP Reg E. Cathey, who used to teach math

Most of Reg E. Cathey’s obituaries have referenced his roles on House of Cards or The Wire. That work is both excellent and recent, so those mentions make sense.

But one of Cathey’s earliest roles was one of his most important. Cathey’s first regular gig was a spot on the cast of Square One Television.

Did you know that if you take any number, multiply it by nine, and start adding the digits, you eventually get nine? It’s true. Here’s Cathey explaining it:

(Come to think of it, Cathey died on February 9 and the CNN obituary says he started acting at the age of nine… but that’s probably all a coincidence.)

Square One was a cousin of Sesame Street, a Children’s’ Television Workshop-produced PBS kids’ show. Just as 3-2-1 Contact tried to get kids into science, Square One tried to stoke interest in math. Cathey and his cast-mates acted and sang in sketches to illustrate concepts like percentages, patterns, and probability.

Surely, no one from the cast was solving equations on a chalkboard in the back room or finishing up a masters’ thesis on Fermat’s Last Theorem between takes. Yet when the cameras’ red lights blinked on, they became math professors.

Effective education goes beyond the simple regurgitation of knowledge. The ability to impart that knowledge is a skill of its own. Cathey taught probability while taunting a pizza guy running from a mummy, and joined a Motown ensemble to explain percentages. There’s a subset of a sub-generation that learned those concepts from him and the rest of the Square One cast.

Reg E. Cathey built a distinguished career as a dramatic actor. It’s worth remembering that he was a pretty good math teacher, too.

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