Mathochism: Supplemental hell

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 really disliked last semester’s Algebra textbook. The reasons I disliked it were twofold: not only was the author trying to be ridiculously hip by including references to D-List celebs like Carson Daly, he also included sexist questions that had nothing to do with math.

This semester’s Algebra II textbook is much more to my taste, and the authors won my heart by including a brief bio of Grace Murray Hopper, a computer programmer who kicked some serious math ass in the ’40s.

My college’s math department, however, seems to feel the book doesn’t go far enough (but they’re happy to make us pay $170 for it anyway), so they’ve put out a supplement.

Fortunately, the supplement is not as expensive as the textbook — a bargain at $2 — but I was irritated nonetheless to find out the Shylockian campus bookstore was selling an outdated version. Of course, by the time I found out it was outdated, it was too late to return it. The bookstore only allows you to return such things within 24 hours. Damn you, campus bookstore! Enjoy your pound of pulp!

But I digress. Back to the math department and its need for supplements!

Now, I don’t have a problem with being taught more stuff. I do, however, have a problem with supplements including problems that deal with concepts that were covered by neither the textbook nor the professor. Case in point: we’ve been studying functions. We’ve also been graphing functions, and tweaking them so they shift up, down, to the right, to the left, and upside down.

For example, -(x-1) squared + 5 graphs as an upside-down parabola one unit to the right of the y axis and five units above the x axis.

This is new material for me, and I’ve been struggling a bit to learn it. That is why I was really dismayed to see problems in the supplement introducing yet another wrinkle — a shift of either a whole number or a fraction that made the various graphs either look squashed or elongated. More dismaying, the supplement’s authors just tossed them in there without warning or explanation. I spent a full 10 minutes on one problem before throwing it down in disgust.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one in class who was annoyed. We asked the brofessor to clarify, and he was annoyed also, saying such problems usually aren’t introduced until pre-calculus. He wound up taking the shift problems off the homework assignment.

Ugh. Talk about supplemental hell. I feel like going to the math department and asking for my money back. I’d be an older, female version of the paperboy in that ’80s John Cusack classic “Better off Dead.”

“I want my two doollaars!!”

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

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