Friday, January 30, 2015

Post 60: To Infinity and Beyond

Those of you who didn't know me in my younger days may be surprised to learn that I loved math. And I was good at it. I went all the way through Calculus at Center Senior High School.

I know it's different at theoretical levels, but the math I was studying seemed wonderfully black-and-white. After arguing with my English teachers ("How do you know what Faulkner meant? You weren't there when he wrote it!), I really enjoyed going to a math class where the answer was right or wrong. No ifs, ands or buts.

I even liked my math teachers -- Mr. Propp, Mr. Dial and Mr. Wills. All very different, but I learned a lot from them. And then I met Mr. Knopps.

Mr. Knopps taught Calculus. Looking back, I think he was probably a wonderful teacher with a wry, dry sense of humor. Looking then, I thought he was terrifying.

It became clear early on -- to me, Mr. Knopps and the rest of the class -- that I was out of my league. Calculus wasn't Algebra. It wasn't Geometry. It didn't add up. But, I was stuck with Mr. K and he was stuck with me. After all, I was one of the "smart" kids. We didn't drop classes and teachers didn't kick us out.

Although, if he'd had the opportunity, I believe Mr. K would have shown me the door.

"Janet," Mr. Knopps would say, when I failed -- yet again -- to answer a question. "My five-year-old can solve this equation. Certainly you can."

I wasn't the only one Mr. K teased, and I saw how others responded. They worked harder, they came back with the right answers, they trounced that little five-year-old. Unfortunately, the motivation didn't work for me. I gave up and shut up, "counting" on his good grace and my limited talents to eventually pass the class.

Fortunately, a passing grade in Calculus satisfied the University of Missouri's mathematics requirements for a journalism student. I never looked back and I never took a math class again. Mr. K was my differential swan song.

That said, he did teach me one invaluable lesson. Different strokes for different folks. We're not all inspired by the same topic, the same people, the same approach. There's a reason for all those different college majors -- and all those different religions. Different strokes and different folks demand and create an "infinite series" of possibilities.

Infinite series. Infinite series. Does that remind you of high school math? It reminds me of Buzz Lightyear.

By the by, I met the damn five-year-old years later. Nice kid, studying journalism. Go figure ...

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is Post 4 of the 60. Party on!


Bud Simpson said...

All I learned from my experience with Calculus was "don't drink and derive." #classclown

Jan said...


Roy said...

I don't know. People who can do math are cool. And your writing is somehow a lot more precise than most I see. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Jan said...

That is a fascinating comment, Roy. I always thought my style came more from my journalism days, but maybe my math background does play a factor.

Roy said...

Your posts follow an intact line of reasoning--something I'm sure is desirable in journalism, (and scarce on the Internet,) but definitely required in math. Either way...or both.