Thursday, November 19, 2009

Has Technology Ruined Us (Me)? or: Damn Math Part 1

In the 10th grade I started getting math tutors when it became obvious that I sucked at equations. I was fine in other areas like English, history, etc. But math just continued to get harder and harder, and I wasn’t improving. Initially, I was pretty good at math, and I even got a 100 on a test in the 2nd grade (still proud of it). Once we hit division, however, it was a downward spiral. I hated the fact that I had to have classes after classes, and I resisted with all of my power. Calculator love by NintendoChick.

Ms. Van Dyke would come for an hour a week at 7 pm, and being a brat, I’d hardly show interest. Once I even heard her tell my mom that she knew I didn’t want the lessons and resented her. The same kind of thing went on throughout high school with two other tutors, though I was trying to at least understand the math as time went on, at least to improve my grades. Even with strict determination, an extra hour a week wasn’t enough to truly help me understand the material, maybe just finish my homework with some assistance.

Then as a senior, my friendly teacher Mrs. Goodman, who did her best to just pass me through, warned me that I should avoid taking math in college. It was pretty clear what she was saying: You suck at math and numbers should have a restraining order against you, do not go within 100 feet of a protractor. One math course my first semester in college and I was done, finished forever. All of the nonsensical equations I had learned throughout my youth floated out of my head, and any time I needed to do some dreaded math, I trusted the calculator or a smarter friend.

That is until recently, when I had to delve back into my arch enemy’s territory for the GRE. It seems so unfair that I should be tested on material I haven’t looked at in 5 years, especially when it will have NOTHING to do with what I want to study a Masters degree in. It’s just not right, and the grades on the prep book tests show that any lingering memories of algebraic basic knowledge have long since left with so many other brain cells that I parted ways with in college. But a friend who used to teach math at Sylvan Learning Centers in the U.S. for a few years offered to help last night.

We spent a little over an hour going through problems and brushing up on basic math skills. Though they were still a bit beyond reach, I could remember having done these things at some point, and as the hour went on it made more sense. But there was still that fog in my brain, the kind you have when thinking of a dream the next morning. It was hard enough to focus with a math tutor in high school after being out of class for a few hours, but this lesson was after a long day at work, well after exhaustion set in.

This time I really wanted to focus, and I strained my brain to understand it. But my eyes went out of focus and started thinking about how I would eventually write about this. (Damn you, literary mind!). Much for the same reason I simply understand the way a sentence should sound, or if a word should be cut, my friend Justin can do complex math problems with ease. He’s got a right brain, I’ve got a left. But there’s no section on the GRE for writing creatively. I guess individual skill, rather than generic, isn't that important to the folks at ETS (administrators of the GRE).

But I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t rely on my calculator. If I actually had to retain some of the math skills learned way back in the day. Would life be simpler or more difficult? Short run—more difficult, long run—simpler, I think. I just don’t have the time to relearn all of these equations or theorems. 

To Be Continued...Right Now

Above: Photo by NintendoChick

No comments: