Mathochism: Dysfunction function

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around functions. Well, sort of. I understand the concept of, say, f[x] = 2x + 1. The trouble comes when I’m translating a function into a graph.

I don’t like graphs. I didn’t feel the graph love last semester in Algebra, and I’m not feeling it now. But it seems I’m going to have to learn to like them, along with word problems. To use a food metaphor, graphs seem a lot like cauliflower. I don’t like cauliflower. I think it goes back to my childhood, when my mother would boil it into submission, stinking up the house, then make me eat the limp discolored results.

Now, my mother is an excellent cook. I wouldn’t have become a avid cook without her inspiration. But there are some things even she can’t cook, and cauliflower is one of them. We all have our culinary Achilles heels. Mine is pie crust.

Or rather, mine WAS pie crust. I’ve learned to make a serviceable crust since my early attempts — most in my Easy Bake oven — but it’s still not my favorite thing to do.

But back to graphs — I’m hoping I can learn to like them, because I have actually learned to like word problems. To use another food metaphor, word problems are like yams. I always disliked yams, especially candied ones. Now, I can’t get enough, though I don’t serve either word problems or yams candied. (Okay, I do serve my word problems with a side of hazelnut chocolate, but that’s not important right now.)

Whether or not my hatred of graphs continues is rather dependent on the brofessor, and I felt my faith (and true, my faith isn’t strong) slipping a bit last night. As I mentioned before, the brofessor likes to not just teach the concepts, but also explain everything behind them. This works fine when we’re rehashing basic algebra. I know how to solve a number of equations, and I am comfortable enough solving them that I can now understand and appreciate the ideas behind them.

But I’m not comfortable enough with functions, or graphing functions, to delve into what’s behind them quite yet. It feels a little like I just learned to swim, but now I’m being entered into the Nationals. I get that the brofessor is bored teaching basic math. That still doesn’t mean he is right to get way ahead of himself.

I’m not alone in feeling a bit disgruntled. Several students at last night’s lecture were not pleased with him. The most vocal was Ana, or Ms. “I’m a woman.” At break, she began haranguing the brofessor, telling him he was going too fast, and that his handwriting was too sloppy.

Once again, her way of communicating put my back up a bit. Nor do I agree with her on the too fast/sloppy writing thing. I agreed, however, with a student behind me, who called the brofessor on his many digressions into higher math.

He, of course, got defensive, and blamed us all for not asking enough questions. This functions lecture was rapidly getting dysfunctional. But the second half of class went back to rehashing Algebra — more graphs, urrgh — and everyone settled down.

Since it was a rehash, I spent the time wrapping my mind around graphing functions, particularly ones that are reversed. And once class was over, I cornered the brofessor and asked him for a strategic way to a approach such problems. He was happy to show me, and the murky turned clearer.

Now excuse me — I must go put cauliflower on my grocery list.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

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