Mathochism: The well-accessorized student

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

Confession time: I’ve always liked accessories. Frankly, I blame my early exposure to Barbie. Does any other doll have more things that are “sold separately”? But perhaps that’s unfair. Most toys I grew up with seemed to operate on the badly-needed accessory model. You must collect them all!

So you can imagine my excitement when this semester’s math class required more than a book, a notebook and some pencils. It also required a compass, a ruler and a protractor. Yay! A chance to get math accessories!

I do remember possessing such things back in the day — and I’ve never stopped owning a ruler — but I’ve forgotten how much of a pain in the ass a compass can be. I’ve already stuck myself on the needle while grabbing for it in the bottom of my backpack. Then there’s that teeny piece of lead (actually, it’s probably graphite) that screws into the other end, and it’s pretty damn fragile.

While I obviously need to be more careful with the pointy end, I kind of wish I’d sprung for the kind of compass I remember as a kid, which had a space for a regular pencil. And I wish I had sprung for a sturdier model, since this one collapses far too easily, so all my circles so far are ovals.

The protractor, however, kind of rocks, even though I’ve forgotten how to use it effectively. I only wish I had had it a few months ago, although I probably would have driven everyone mad by constantly asking: “Am I at less than 90 degrees? How about now? And now? How about now?”

We used our math accessories in class today. The instructor, hereby known as Uchitel (Russian for teacher) had a special huge compass for the blackboard. Sadly, he didn’t have a giant protractor, though he may be saving that for another class.

We used our smaller protractors, though, and I was slightly shamed by my inability to read them right in at least two problems. Now, Uchitel didn’t shame me — unlike the Brofessor, he doesn’t seem the taunting type — but I felt silly for not spotting the obvious. At least I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few befuddled students in class, and we all agreed tacitly that our brains had gotten scrambled by Algebra, since our go-to method for solving the protractor problem was to set up a complex equation.

Uchitel also showed us how to bisect an angle, and how to draw congruent angles. His giant compass neither stabbed him nor collapsed on him. Then again, he is a professional.

Or maybe that’s not the problem at all. Maybe I need to shop for better math accessories. Tut. tut. What a shame. Hey, maybe I can collect them all!

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



  • Don’t feel bad. The giant compasses are very sturdy!

    Speaking of which, though, if you can afford it, I would buy a better protractor. It will be a lot easier to understand in-class and homework exercises if you are able to use your compass well, which you can only really do if you have a good compass to start with.

    Still, I wouldn’t recommend the giant compasses for home use. 🙂

  • Antonia, you are such a math enabler! *Makes late-night run to Staples*

  • The giant compass! I remember those. Mostly from the scene in “Better Off Dead” when John Cusack has to write out a math problem on the blackboard, and the only piece of chalk is stuck in a giant compass… and it makes a horrible squeaking sound…and then the teacher asks if he can take Beth out. Geometry!!!

  • Olivia, I am convinced that all of life’s lessons can be found in “Better Off Dead.”

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