Mathematical Awkwardness

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about confusion. Specifically, confusion involving school subjects. This one’s kind of a tricky, because I was the kind of student that always got straight A’s. It didn’t matter what the material was; English, Chemistry, History, Economics, Art…if it was something I could read, I could pick it up pretty quickly. If I couldn’t, I’d just study harder. Physical education, however, was like a daily ritual of awkwardness and humiliation. It wasn’t that I was out of shape – I walked four miles a day to get to school and back, and hiked regularly on weekends – but I was just really uncoordinated. I could run a 7-minute mile and do a hundred sit-ups, but I couldn’t throw a basketball in a hoop to save my life. Nor could I catch a baseball, return a volleyball over the net, etc. I was the quiet little geek with the big glasses that always got picked last for teams. You know how there’s always the one kid in the class that would always get hit in the face with a frisbee or something? Yeah, that was me. I was a little better when it came to sports that involved handheld equipment; I could play tennis or badminton for hours. I just never found the groove/mindset/whatever that was necessary to do well in sports. Even in my Freshman year in college, I remember taking jiu-jitsu (I needed it for General Ed) and apologizing profusely for screwing up the techniques we were learning that day.

But those failures pale in comparison to my most hated subject: Math.

It’s kind of ironic, coming from someone that likes learning about science and whatnot. I’ve gotten much better at it in my adult years. The banking industry has that effect on people. But way back in high school, it was a foe unlike any I’d ever encountered. I had no trouble with algebra and geometry; I even helped my mother relearn it when she was finishing her degree. But something was lost in the transition from algebra to precalculus. The equations seemed much harder to memorize; so many more symbols, so many more rules…it all kind of bled to together in a massive jumble of lines and numbers. How could anyone keep track of all of that?! I could understand how things worked by just looking at them, so why do I suddenly have to prove it? But I couldn’t be deterred. Like any good overachiever, I stayed after school every day and attended the math lab, because I knew I needed the extra help. For the most part, it succeeded. I managed to keep my perfect GPA, and did well on the college entrance exams. I did so well, I was immediately bumped up to calculus as a Freshman.

…Without ever taking trigonometry.

No, seriously. I tested well enough into a college course without learning a huge chunk of the necessary coursework. You want a humbling experience? Try surviving a calculus class for two weeks without knowing most of the subject material. It was as bad as it sounds. For the first time, I was faced with a subject that I wasn’t properly prepared for. And man, did it show; I’d never gotten a C grade, let alone flunk anything. After a couple of disastrous tests, the instructor took me aside. After hearing the problem, he told me in no uncertain terms that I should withdraw from the class before it could hit my record, study on my own time, and retake it the next semester. I tearfully gathered up my things – including the $300 calculus book – and did as he advised. I fared much better the second time (a B was plenty fine), but I never wanted to take such a class again. My degree didn’t require it, so math and I parted on bitter terms.

In retrospect, I should’ve stuck to it. English will always be my favorite subject, but math is far more awesome then most people realize. It’s just that the advanced stuff is really hard, and I don’t understand why. Now that there are programs like the Khan Academy, I’ve been thinking about going back and relearning everything with a clean slate. I think I’ll do better this time.