Mathochism: Mathematical miracles

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 not entirely sure how this happened, but I once again scraped an A on the latest test. Either Uchitel took pity on me, or I actually deserved the partial credit on both the problems I was worried about. I actually got the 10-pointer right, but got a point off for giving two answers.

And there WERE two answers, but I’m not going to argue this one. That would be like looking a gift circle in the circumference!

Anyway, that’s a relief. I am now clear to continue with pre-calc, and if I keep scraping As on the last test and final, I may actually accomplish a math miracle — an A in geometry.

But let’s not get cocky. Today, we moved on to two formulas named after ancient mathematicians — Egyptian Heron and Indian Brahmagupta. Heron’s formula applies to triangles, while Brahmagupta’s applies to quadrilaterals inscribed in a circle. Solving problems with these formulas is mainly plug-and-chug, though one Heron problem we did in class stymied me at first.

I’m having the same problem with Uchitel that I once had with the Dour Professor. Now that he knows that Whitney can get As, he expects more. As I sat wringing my brain over that Heron problem, he stopped by, hovered hopefully, then left crestfallen. I did get the problem eventually — my brain just needs a little extra time at times — but not quickly enough to please him.

I did kick butt on the next, simpler one, which made up for it somewhat. The brutal truth is this: While I’m not hopeless at math, it will never feel natural. I will always have to work at it, chew it over, digest it before it truly sinks in. But that is part of the pain. And also of the fun.

And the fact that I feel this way is an even bigger miracle.

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



  • “I will always have to work at it, chew it over, digest it before it truly sinks in.”

    This is true for basically everyone. I’m a graduate student in engineering at Stanford and this is true whenever I see something completely new. If you want to see how “natural” math actually feels to you, go back a bit to algebra or something that you once knew but have forgotten, or go look something up that you haven’t seen before, but only relies on the math that you’ve already learned. You may find that it’s surprisingly easy to pick up.

  • That is very comforting to hear. Thanks!

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