Mathochism: When the book isn’t enough
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’ve never been able to learn math just by reading a book. Unlike literature, or art, or science, I’ve always needed a teacher to help me grasp even the simplest techniques.
Still, I’ve connected with some books more than others. Last semester in pre-calculus, I disliked the book so much that I ignored it, relying on it solely for homework problems, getting my theory from the professor and other texts, including the much clearer pre-calc book from the dropped summer course.
When I saw that my calculus book was written by the same guy who wrote the fall pre-calc book, my heart sank. But I wanted to give it a chance. The first chapter, which recapped algebra and trig, wasn’t so bad. But the second chapter wasn’t so clear. The third chapter may as well be written in moon language.
All week, I left class thinking I understood the concepts. Then I read the book. Whaaaa?? I shook my head like a dog trying to dry her long floppy ears, and then I tackled homework. Okay, no problem! Now, to check the solutions for the odd problems in the supplement I bought for a mere $17 less than the text.
Whaaaa? Our answers are the same, but how the author got that answer is far more convoluted. He also leaves out steps, making them less than fully worked out solutions, and that whole “solutions for odd problems” thing apparently means “only solutions for the odd problems I deem difficult.”
Apparently, a math fool and her money are soon parted.
Between this lousy textbook and the pessimistic professor, I realized it was time to supplement. I figured I’d go with the simplest option, so I picked up a copy of “Calculus for Dummies.” Now, I realize this is akin to trying to pass a lit course with Cliff’s Notes, but I discovered, to my joy, that the author is good at translating moon language. With his translations, I was able to understand the book’s examples much better.
I also picked up a more advanced study guide printed by Princeton University. Between the two, I hope to get the theory I don’t feel I’m getting from the text.
As for the pessimistic professor, I feel we are establishing some rapport. If anything, I think he appreciates my willingness to learn. This appreciation will be tested tomorrow, since I am planning on spending some quality workshop time with the guy. Hopefully, my endless questions won’t annoy him too much. I really don’t enjoy annoying people, even though I’ve spent much of my career being paid to do so!
The countdown to the exam has begun. Will I master trig limits, derivatives, vertical tangent lines and cusps and implicit differentiation by Wednesday? I will do my best to try!
All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.