Community Magazine

After Math

By Rem @CommunesofLove
Schoolboy Struggling with Math Problems

(c) Microsoft image

I remember the face of my math teacher when I was in third grade. Her eyebrows were almost hooked together as she got irritated when any of us in the class couldn’t recite the multiplication table. For a third grader, it was a  feeling of terror and math was not just a tough subject but a fearsome one. I was fearfully motivated to memorize the table. It helped. Now, after many years, the fear was gone but the image of the table – and that of my teacher – was still there.

What was then a tough grade school math crisis continued towards high school and college. As long as the subject was about numbers, I always  got my grades in lucky numbers: 75, 76, 77. These percentages translate to almost failed. As a high school senior, I was lucky enough to just count two friends, and count on them on subjects I have a hard time counting. One friend was good in accounting homework, and she was the one assisting me balancing credit and debit on yellow sheets that made me feel too nauseated in confusion and frustration. And on matters of algebra, I always sought the counsel of another friend, whom all of my classmates found incredibly brilliant. He was such a genius that there were days our algebra teacher asked him to teach us instead!

I can easily assume that I share these past difficulties with many students. I have no way and time to do an accurate survey, but I tried to  ask some of my friends online. Mathematics conjured up memories of academic suffering. I thought this may seem to be a ‘common denominator’ for students, both past and present. And I find that ironic, using a mathematical term to denote a difficult experience. But I don’t mean to demean math, even if I asked them their most hated subject. By referring to the word ‘hated’, it provokes memories of entwined negative emotions and mental agonies, of having thoughts of making a catastrophe out of school grades, of being scolded by their parents, of enduring the hardship and boredom inside a class, math or not, of striving to learn even if all the joy of learning was robbed by the fear of not calculating the right answers.

I remember my high school chemistry teacher who one day handled our algebra class when our math teacher was absent. She didn’t start her class by writing down all algebraic formulas that made my mind bled. She started with some sort of inspirational words – that though there are math geniuses like my old friend, math is not about being a genius. It was about minding the formulas and getting them right. Her words lit a bright light in my otherwise burned out brain. I realized I could still muster all my power to resuscitate my dying interest in math.

I believe that there is something beneath all these attempts to crack and calculate the mysteries of the universe.

So when I got home, I read all the formulas. I wrote all of them in a long, pink sheet of lined paper. As I familiarized myself again with the formulas, in my heart I seeded an inspiration of passing the most difficult academic subject in my life. It paid. My final exams, I got the first grade of 90%. It felt so surreal. I passed without the need to curse my teacher or the subject. And the pink sheet, well, still in my box of mementos, a beautiful memory of my old school days with math.

close-up of a calculator

(c) Microsoft image

I still had to face math problems in college – my failed attempt to make it into dean’s list, my cluelessness in statistics, my struggle with all chemistry equations, my annoyance in trigonometry. Understandably, with all those math experiences, it is easy to hate a subject that we as students find ourselves weak and dumb. Almost all of us learned that in school what matters is to have the best numbers in a numbers’ game on a subject of numbers. And I keep on asking the question, what’s the use of advance mathematics in my everyday life? What does it mean in fulfilling my dreams or in being and becoming human? That question may not have a mathematical equation, but it is worthy to find an equal connection with a subject that is found in the existence of every minute thing in the cosmos.

In this spiritual quest of knowing, I have heard a new perspective, one that uses mathematics to measure the immeasurable sacred. Apart from the discovering that mathematics is the language of God, as the fundamental basis of all human ingenuity and rise of the modern world, of its accurate computations that is found in all things, and of rendering infinity through infinite numbers, I believe that there is something beneath all these attempts to crack and calculate the mysteries of the universe. We count on something that we often try to count but fail, until we find that its countlessness is the very mathematics of our soul. In an inspiring quote from the film A Beautiful Mind, Nobel prize recipient John Nash, portrayed by actor Russell Crowe, delivered these words: “And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life: It is only in the mysterious equations of Love that any logic or reasons can be found.” In those equations, I’m pretty much at home.

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