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I got my first two tests of the semester back last week, and each one was a low A. Now, writing that, it is obvious to me the merit of that occasion. And yet, at the time I got each back, I eagerly thumbed through to the test to ensure that I had achieved a satisfactory grade. Having found those little 90-somethings on the first or second page, I took them in stride with hardly a second thought.

But why? After noticing that the classmate with whom I’d been working had received a high D, I was granted some vicarious facsimile of the sense of personal failure elicited by such a grade. Of course, some time ago, I had come to realize that this fellow had little inkling of the interactions between position, velocity, momentum, and acceleration that we were exploring as a class.

Actually, on a bit of a side-note, that was not unusual for this class. The numerous times I tried to explain that if position were parabolic, then velocity would be linear, I was met with blank stares. When I attempted to lay this bare by explaining that velocity is the derivative of position, and a line the derivative of a parabola, I got nothing but blank stares. Despite this class requiring two semesters of Calculus, the first of which teaches basic derivatives, they seemed clueless.

At any rate, I realized that getting good grades, even in the difficult collegiate setting, was the status quo, and its continuation unremarkable. I can’t say exactly where this attitude came from, but it is rather simple to see that it developed during my high school career. By the time that I had made it to my sophomore year of high school, my parents had adopted a rather enlightened outlook on my grades: trust. I was neither explicitly rewarded nor punished for the quality of my grades, only reminded of their importance. Even during the height my video game playing, when I mentioned in passing that I was struggling (which is to say near to failing) in Calculus, I was reminded that my parents were there to help if I needed it, but that my grades were my responsibility.

So these days, when I receive no formal report card and my parents don’t even have a legal right to see my grades, the independence afforded is, as with my test grades, unremarkable.

But how did this happen? It’s rather hard to pin down when an attitude is developed, but I suspect it was during the same period mentioned above so that by the time I was handed my diploma, it was well-entrenched. I can at least say for sure it was in place by last semester, when I reluctantly and painfully scraped through Chemistry and Calculus III with a C and B, respectively. In each case, my figurative failures stung like metaphorical hot brands, but my successes in other classes such as English went uncelebrated.

That’s not to say it’s all bad, though. Those difficult (or in the case of Chemistry, academically pedantic) classes have caused me to mentally remark more than once that I’m glad that I don’t have any classes like that this semester. No, in fact, the challenges this semester come from an interestingly dichotic pair of classes: Linear Algebra and Discrete Math. In the former, the calculations are an avalanche of terribly simple additions and subtractions that would be infinitely more efficient on a computer. However, we’re not allowed to use even the most primitive pocket calculator on tests. The latter is dealing with formalized logic and rigorous proofs, which — like symbolic integration — require the spark of human ingenuity to be done properly, rendering even the most advanced calculator useless.

The requirement of cleverness and appropriate incomputability of the discrete math problems do not frustrate me overly. On the other hand, the fact that it would be a trivial matter to code up a program to do the matrix-based calculations in Algebra maddens me.

After all, I am here at college to learn how to program.

Categories: College
  1. Grandma
    February 5, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for giving us a look into your classes this semester. Your parents were wise in saying that your grades were your responsibility, and your attitude is a mature one. I’m sure the fact that you aren’t allowed to create a program to do the Algebra calculations is to be sure that you understand the processes, but you know that. It still doesn’t make it less frustrating. And congratulations on the A’s. (How does one pluralize an A?)

  1. March 14, 2008 at 3:07 am

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