Mathochism: No solution

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

Happily, the Brofessor has been a bit more focused in the last week, though he did try to change the subject on Monday when he sensed class attention was waning. In truth, I think everyone wasn’t bored, just tired and longing to get through the material and go home.

I know I was, and actually told the Brofessor as much. I had meant to keep my mouth shut and treat him, the way a friend advised, like another problem to get through. But then he asked me what I thought, so I told him. And the funny thing is that I could actually feel the rest of the class agreeing with me, though nobody said a word.

He must have sensed their support, because he got back to work, and we got through the material and got going.

I’ve been feeling more positive about the class since I solved another problem that had really been bugging me. In the first two math classes, all homework problems came with a solution, whether from the instructor or the back of the book. This is helpful, because I like to work the problem, then check if I did it right. If I got the wrong answer, I go back and figure out what went wrong. This is how I learn.

The Brofessor, however, is prone to assigning homework where more than half the problems have no solution, i.e. the even problems. My Algebra II textbook only gives answers to odd problems (not even in the pricey solutions supplement). Now, I’ve come to realize this is standard operating procedure for most math textbooks, which is why the Brofessor’s insistence on assigning even problems is such a pain — he should know better, particularly since he doesn’t correct each problem in our homework, merely checks if we did any of it. Well, he probably doesn’t care!

I’ve suffered with this for weeks, even buying that stupid solutions manual in hopes that would help. Finally, I just asked in class whether we could get the answers to the even problems. Luckily for the Brofessor, he consented, though he isn’t going to make the effort to supply them. He will allow me, however, to copy them out of his teacher’s edition during the break.

Once I started doing that, I found I got much more out of the homework than I did before. I do come across the occasional problem I can’t solve, even with a solution. But that’s pretty rare.

Sigh. Yes, it’s better, but I can’t wait until the semester is over.

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



  • A bit of perspective on assigning even problems from someone who’s currently teaching mathematics at the college level:

    One of the main problems the Brofessor is probably trying to circumvent is the phenomenon of students buying the solutions manual and copying the homework solutions directly out of it. A lot of those solutions guides give detailed solutions, and so a student in a class where the professor only assigns odd problems could get through all the homework and get a 100% homework grade *without working a single problem on their own*. This is a really common problem. In one of the courses I was grading for (but not teaching), one student did not work out a single problem on her own, but we weren’t able to do anything to her grade for it because of various honor policies in place at the school I teach at.

    There’s also a reason why this practice might be beneficial to you (as someone who seems unlikely to try to cheat on homework assignments). In my time tutoring and teaching, I’ve noticed that many students begin to depend on being able to check their solutions as they’re working on the homework, a practice that often has detrimental effects when it comes to test time.

    All that said, the Brofessor should definitely be providing you with solutions (or at least answers) after the homework is turned in.

    Thanks for writing about your experiences taking math. Hearing a student’s perspective is extremely valuable, and it’s often difficult to get my own students to tell me what they think of the class.

  • Thanks so much for writing, Antonia! You make an excellent point, and in fact I had sort of a similar chat with the Brofessor in class last night. I have absolutely no interest in having the problems worked out for me; I just like to check my work after it’s done and make sure I’m on the right track, since he won’t help me with that. I know correcting 300+ problems from 35 students every week is a huge task, but giving an answer sheet (just answers, not worked out problems!) really isn’t.

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