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Math 17 and the AfterMath

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Image courtesy of TED.com

Despite the scorching heat of the summer sun that has the capacity to deactivate some of my brain cells, the month of April reminds me of some treasured memories. I wanted to talk about many memorable things that happened many Aprils ago in this post but I think the subject of Math deserves an exclusive entry in my blog and you will about to find out why.

This is the time of the year when, during my undergraduate years in UP, I courageously decided to take THE summer class that will forever change my life. I don’t know what got into me. May be I have been drugged by the monay with cheese I frequently bought in front of the Faculty Center (FC) on my way to class in the morning. The cheese must be the culprit. I am starting to believe now that dairy is the root of all evil. For some reason I decided to take the notorious Math 17 class, algebra and trigonometry combined, squeezed into 4 weeks of learning until your brain shrinks in half. You are lucky if you get out with your brain still intact.

I also enrolled in a volleyball class that same summer I was taking Math 17. I used to love volleyball. I’ve been playing the sport like a pro since childhood. But that particular class changed my worldview about volleyball as well. It can be such a brutal sport if you do it every day without varsity-like training prior. The teacher didn’t show any shred of humanity either pretending that her students were ok because the truth is we were all physically hurting. On the 3rd day of class, almost all of my classmates including myself have bruised arms and the ball became a cursed object every time it touches our extremities. The ball has been baptized with hematoma, tainted with sweat and infused with painful thoughts which I believe are perfect elements of a ritual sacrifice to turn ordinary objects to dark objects. Looking back, I think volleyballs used in summer classes should be cleansed periodically because it might turn into a chucky doll that will wreak havoc in the generation of students to come.

That whole summer season became a battle of the mind and the body. But since PE classes have no bearing in academic standings, I shall only highlight my Math experience here.

Math 17 has earned a reputation for being an obstacle to almost every UP student’s academic life. To speak of its name is like speaking the name of Voldemort in the Harry Potter universe. Perhaps what makes it challenging is because the pacing of lessons is quicker since it has to fit in both algebra and trigonometry in a span of one semester. Even faster pacing if taken as a summer class which was in my case.  For some people Math is the only thing that stands between them and graduation. Unfortunately for me, my course curriculum requires to take Math 17 or split it into Math 11 (algebra) and Math 14 (trigonometry). And should I manage to get past these 2 dragons, another one is waiting just at the end of the academic tunnel, Math 100 (calculus).

Of course, this is not necessarily true for engineers, statistics, and economics majors and the likes who eat numbers like french fries. Be very careful whom you ask for opinion or advice. And in this subject matter, don’t trust any student from any of those courses mentioned because they will tell you otherwise. I have this theory that most of them, if not all, have been abducted at one point and brainwashed to believing that Math is easy. Never ask a friend who is enrolled in any of the courses mentioned either because it might ruin your friendship. More so if your friend happens to be a Math major. Every argument you have against Math will be easily refuted. Every argument you throw into the conversation will sound like a lame excuse not to be vegan and for sure you will lose. But no matter what these people say about Math doesn’t matter. What’s more important is the truth. Your truth. I suggest you look into your heart and soul and you will see the truth for what Math truly is.

Unlike in other schools, and I say this with great conviction, Math in UP is very lethal. The grading system of UP Math (Math 11, 14, 17 and 100 in particular) is crueler than death penalty and genocide combined. It represents every facet of social injustice we experience everywhere in the society at large. It doesn’t believe in redemption. It takes 3 major exams which will determine whether you pass or fail. And unlike an essay question where you can get a point no matter how bad your answer was,  every answer in a Math exam is either correct or not. You never get a point for the effort of solving the equation.

It is very rare to encounter Math instructors who would give incentive grades from quizzes or projects. But they do believe in reincarnation however. A student may opt to drop the subject just before midterms and try their luck again in the next semester in a different class. But just like reincarnation where you take a different personality to learn the same lessons required, the difficulties remain the same. The endless cycle of trying and failing or dropping and trying again can be akin to what the Buddhists call samsara in the very literal sense.

Call it bravery, stupidity or unwaivering self-confidence, but I decided to finish Math 17 until the end despite the red flags I’ve been seeing earlier. After all, I’ve been a consistent dean’s lister (both university and college scholar) and I told myself that will not allow a single subject get in the way for my hopes and aspirations to graduate with a laude attached to my name.

I owe my ability to memorize easily to my meditation practice. I learned meditation in high school and it made my mind sharper as if I possessed some kind of mutant powers. Long before I’ve learned about hypnotherapy and understood brainwaves, I had this habit of studying only in the morning of the day of the exam, right after waking up from bed or 30 minutes before a quiz when my mind is still fresh and my brain produces a lot of alpha brainwaves. I am a very visual person. All I need to do is browse my notes and scanned with my eyes the pages of my notebook. During a quiz or exam, I would visually recall my notes and/or where a particular line was written in the page of my notebook and that’s how I manage to pass exams and quizzes with flying colors. But just like any mutant powers, I guess it has its scope and limitations too. This so-called mutant power of mine proved not very useful in Math as it does not heavily rely on memorization alone.

If it were sacred geometry I would have most likely aced the subject and the whole summer will be just like a walk in the great academic oval. I imagine spending the whole day and night exploring the seed of life, flower of life, tree of life, fruit of life, leaf of life, root of life, the golden ratio, the silver ratio, the bronze ratio and all that kind of stuff. I can explore numerology, the enneagram and what not until my consciousness explodes and become one with the stars. But that was not the case. My reality revolved around square roots, exponents, integers and the cartesian plane.

I used to think that students from other courses who are not required to take Math 17 and Math 100 are the only children of God. They are spared from the horrors and sheltered from the harshness that are brought about by Math. They are spared from enduring the possibility of pain and suffering should they fail or drop the subject. They can graduate easily with a squeaky clean record. I envied them. But shifting courses was not an option.

Back then I never believed in the myths of the great flood nor in the apocalypse that the bible talks about not until the day the grades were released. For a moment, as I saw my class card, I was transported back in time when the earth rained with fire and the dinosaurs became extinct. I experienced catharsis far worse than my first inner dance, GINHAWA retreats, and detox programs combined. It made me ask the most important questions in life such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” It tore away my every single hope of graduating with honors and left me feeling bare, naked and vulnerable.

Failing at something can be a painful experience. But failing for the very first time in your life is devastating. I have never had a failing grade until Math 17 happened. I have always been part of the cream of the crops so to speak. But as it has been said there’s always a first time for every thing. And this was my first. The worse part of receiving a failing grade is that it felt like all other forms of intelligence are rendered obsolete and only one’s mathematical prowess matter.

I consider taking Math 17 as my first shamanic initiation. I went through the process of dismemberment, tearing me apart limb by limb, pieces by pieces, until I became nothing. It made me question the very foundation of my identity and ability. I experienced a symbolic death only to emerge anew with restored hope and optimism.

I learned my lesson well. Instead of taking Math 17 again, I took Math 11 and Math 14 separately and I finally passed the subjects. But the journey did not end there yet. Math 17 (or Math 11 and 14) is only a precursor to an even greater challenge that is Math 100 (calculus). I’d like to think of Math 17 as human life spent on earth and Math 100 as the afterlife that awaits us after death.

Call it good karma or what but in my first and only attempt at Math 100, I happen to land on a summer class (yes another summer class) where the instructor teaching the class happens to have a compassionate heart, is easy to the eye and as hot as the summer sun. Oh and did I mention the teacher was hot? Don’t let me repeat it again.

Some people call what happens in life as fate. For a UP student, we call it UP Computerized Registration System (UP CRS). I consider the UP CRS as even more powerful than fate itself. Students enroll in a class without prior knowledge of who the teacher is for that particular class. Rumors say my hot teacher’s students have a greater chance at passing the subject. The teacher was very considerate and generous in giving grades and I considered him as a biological aberration from what most Math instructors that I’ve encountered so far. I must have earned enough merits or good karma from community service and tree planting to deserve this kind of good fortune, I thought. Having said that all, it will be a great mortal sin, something that is unforgivable even in a thousand lifetimes of being vegan, for any student not to pass the subject under his tutelage.

I think it helps a lot when you have a good-looking teacher especially on a very challenging subject such as calculus because it helps makes things look easier for your brain to comprehend. Looking at your teacher alone can cause the two hemispheres of the brain to synchronize all at once just by imagining and pondering what he eats for breakfast, where he lives, what his favorite color is, how he smells like and how many hair follicles he has on the skin underneath his shirt. And before you know it, you’ve just activated all the parts of your brain. Amazing, isn’t it?

Staring at my Math teacher during class, my mind drifted to a place where the moon and sun are together and never set. Every word he uttered became a hypnotic suggestion that went straight to my subconscious mind. I learned faster. The symbols he drew on the board looked like divine revelation. The square roots and the variables came to life like runes that glow as if imbued with magical powers. And then the existential of all existential questions came to me one day: why study math when all we need is love?

The rumors were true. I passed calculus.

Although I spent solving many equations and problem sets in class, there was only one thing I never got to solve.  Why on earth was my teacher wearing a jacket every single day of our summer class? If bathing suit was allowed in the campus, I bet more than half of the class would be wearing a two-piece going to class on summer just to survive the heat and humidity. And yet there he was wearing a jacket. It looks good on him though. I guess it is one of the great mysteries of life that will forever remain a mystery that even the greatest of math equations cannot solve.

And just as I thought I was over with Math, I dated someone from the blue school nearby. Can you imagine my shock when I found out that the person I was dating was a Math major? The universe indeed has a good sense of humor.

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One thought on “Math 17 and the AfterMath

  1. Panalo ang ending hehehe. Part 2, Part 2! 🙂

    Math 11 lang ang required sa amin, hindi 17, pero oo nga, kontinente ang diperensya ng Math 1 at Math 11 sa hirap.

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