Sunday, April 5, 2009

math class

For the majority of my life, math class has been a chance to flaunt my numerical prowess. Upon entering the class, a sly grin would cross the face of the head containing my superior intellect, and I would begin to exact revenge on my less-mathematically inclined classmates, especially those less-mathematically inclined classmates who were more physically inclined than I could ever dream of being. The latter segmentation isn't really a segmentation, as pretty much all of society, including 89 year old men with walkers are more physically inclined than I am*.

I would flaunt my supposed superiority in a variety of ways. Speaking with a pirate accent during tests (dyargh, number three shall walk the plank!), or drawing elaborate pirate ships on my tests after finishing. My classmate in crime, Dan Chan, was a valuable pirate-mate in these adventures. Oh, how we were despised. Oh, how the teacher would threaten to string us up by our thumbs.

My days of superiority have come to an abrupt end.

In a distressing about-face, I have fallen from grace. No more do I strut into math classes with the confidence of a man who is so terrible at basketball that not even the teams comprised entirely of non-basketball-playing women will pick him. I mean, the confidence of that same man who is now entering his own briarpatch. No, now I enter as one of the mortals (as I used to refer to them), shifty-eyed and scared.

With this recent turn of events, I've come to understand what most people go through in math class, and I wanted to document this experience for posterity, especially that posterity that never attends math class because the music and English crowd get their way:

The height of your stomach is inversely proportional to the distance from the class you are approaching. Arriving at the door, you note expressions of Pi to hundreds of digits displayed on the crossbeam; this is mathese for "abandon hope, all ye who enter here". Sitting down on the last row, you avoid making eye contact with your captor, and refrain from making any facial expression, lest you be called on to say something. Anything.

The tormentor begins his speech. Your damndedness is determined by the ratio of symbols to numbers: the higher the ratio, the deeper in trouble you are. A ratio of infinity means you will fail. No questions asked.

Panic builds as you realize you understand every individual word, but the combination of words sounds something akin to Jabberwocky. Master math continues with his cursing spell, "The Heine-Borel Theorem states that a subset E of R
k is compact if and only if it is closed and bounded." Huh? I drive a compact...and what was that about a heiny?

But this isn't the worst of it. After thirty minutes of panic and confusion, the real terror has not yet begun. No, you're not fully doomed until a classmate raises his/her hand and asks a relevant question. ALL IS LOST! If you were all confused, at least you could count on the curve to save you. But ice forms in your innards as you finally realize: you're the only one in here that doesn't have a clue what's going on.

Lowering your head, you exit to the sound of the bell. Your classmates are having lively discussions about the course material, and you mumble an incoherent reply as you shuffle out, a broken man.

Luckily, by the grace of God, you see one of your classmates in the gym later that day, and realize a very important fact: he is definitely sissier than you**. The last shred of decency you possess restrains you from pounding him mercilessly to the floor for his numerical superiority.

*I'm not even going to mention my experience at P.E., but suffice it to say that it was sufficiently painful and embarrassing.
**Except on the basketball court, of course.


MommaMcCarthy said...

Wow! You're lucky to have lasted so long. I found out how dumb I am first day of class, freshman year in college.

I think you should consider yourself lucky :)

jeremiah said...

Ah, buck up little camper! We'll beat this slope together. Going from 'math' as taught in applied areas to 'math' as taught in math courses (i.e. abstract) is no easy transition. My first analysis class I was asked to prove that 0*x=0....and I got it wrong. But really there is a kind of beauty to the whole subject.