Moral: Math is Evil

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

49. Advice you wish you had never heard

It’s a sad truth of human nature that we like to believe that we’re experts on anything we have a tiny grain of knowledge about. Anything we saw on CNN, read about in a magazine, or tripped clumsily over while browsing the internet becomes a topic on which we can speak as though we’ve taken a university course or three on it. The result of this shared delusion is that a lot of people give a lot of advice on things they aught not be giving advice on. Bad advice ends up being given to people who don’t know the difference and don’t figure out that it was bad advice until they’ve already used it and reaped the “rewards”.

I believe that for the most part I’ve managed to be lucky on the receiving end of this issue. I can’t honestly say that I’ve never given bad advice, but I’m fairly confident in stating that I generally recognize bad advice that is given to me and am able to react accordingly. As with all things, however, there are always exceptions.

There is one particular example that I remember from college. My program was set up in such a way that we would take four separate math courses, creatively named Technical Math 1, 2, 3, and 4. Alternatively if you were ambitious you could choose to take Calculus 1 and 2 instead. The coursework would logically be more difficult, but you would save a lot of money by taking only two courses instead of four. I had always been good at math and, seeing this, my department dean advised that I take the Calculus courses. He rationalized that it was also an excellent decision because if I ever decided to further my education toward programming someday I’d already have the required level of math behind me. I reluctantly agreed and signed up for the more difficult option.

But here’s the thing…the Calculus professors at our college, uh…left something to be desired. One was a Chinese man with a thick accent who, while he was actually quite a fine teacher, was extremely difficult to understand. The second was a tenured jerk who did whatever he pleased, and what pleased him was to see how many of his students he could fail each semester. The third, the professor that I ended up with, just plain didn’t give a rat’s ass. He had no teaching skills to speak of, and all but refused to answer questions asked during class. In addition to dealing with this less-than-half-decent excuse for a professor, I was also dealing with the various other stresses that one experiences during college, not to mention the stresses that any young adult deals with on a daily basis. In case you aren’t catching my point…I was stressed.

I passed Calculus 1 with a mid-70. Calculus 2 was another story. By the time the final exam came along I was seriously concerned that I was going to fail. I hadn’t done well on any of the homework and I’d only barely managed to pass the various tests throughout the term. As I sat in my bedroom studying the night before the exam I realized that if some of this stuff didn’t start sinking in immediately I was going to fail the course. I had never failed a class in my life. Hell, I don’t think I’d ever even failed a test in my life. The thought of it panicked me. While I knew that it wasn’t really the end of the world, it felt like it at the time. I was miserable, and that night was the closest I’ve ever come to a genuine anxiety attack.

In the end I managed to make a good enough mark on the exam to pull out of the course with a 52 and I never had to concern myself with advanced mathematics again. However, while I did end up passing the course, I experienced a level of panic and anxiety that I couldn’t have imagined up until that point. Looking back it was clearly not something worth losing my mind over, but the way I (choose to) look at it is, I never would have found myself in that position if it weren’t for the advice of my department dean. Okay, sure, it wasn’t technically bad advice since he couldn’t possibly have known what I would go through for that course, but the prompt wasn’t about bad advice in particular, just advice you wish you had never heard, so it still applies. 🙂

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