Fine Structure

Skipping Math Class

I've always wanted to skip math class. It's not that I dislike math or any particular instructor, but math classes seem to have exactly two settings - when-did-this-become-a-seminar-on-addition slow and oh-my-god-how-did-you-do-that fast. As soon as class kicked in to jackrabbit speed and certain equations started flying over my head I'd tune things out and tell myself that I'd just work it out through the book when I got home.

A quick tutorial on my psyche: I hate doing things twice. I had already spent the three hours in class that were meant for learning the material and I would never go back and spend more time on it. Either someone can teach it to me correctly the first time or I can teach it to myself, but a combination of the two just seemed like a waste of time to me. So I was curious when it turned out that my schedule conflicted with the in-class versions of differential equations and I'd have to find an online course. Teaching myself! Learning from a book! Being able to spend time on it until I really understood the material!

Enter last night. I signed up for the online version of the diffeq course last week and I had a little bit of time to myself so I grabbed a coffee and sat down with a book and Mathematica lesson plan. A little bit of concentrating and two hours later and I felt like I had a pretty solid understanding of basic differential equations, something I rarely felt after a regular math class. Risking being ridiculed as a really big geek (something I don't exactly deny, bytheway), I actually felt empowered by being able to learn this material.

Part of the reason why this is so strange and exciting is because I fall victim to the same pressures that drive the cultural fear of math in most other Americans. Math is hard. Not because it's any different than learning to ride a bike but because it's about learning something new that requires conscious understanding rather than innate ability. I'm not suggesting that you're born with the ability to ride a bike, just that you're able to judge your own success in learning to ride a bike innately.

Also, a couple notes about what helped out: