Monday, November 3, 2008

This Book Saved My High School Career

Math was never my top subject. If I could have had my way, six year old David's school life would have involved nothing but reading books all day, and perhaps completing the occasional word problem or two. I was good enough to constantly get stellar grades in math, but it was always a chore for me. And I was a lazy kid. I hated any subject that required actual studying on my part.

Anyway, in 8th grade I had the world's worst algebra teacher. He took a disliking to me for whatever reason and seemed (in my opinion) to pick on me above all others. He actually told me to my face one day that I was a poor student and would never figure out math. How f'd up is that? As you can imagine, I didn't do so well in his class. Eventually I got my act together by the end of the year to pass, but it was a hard battle.

After that year, I actually believed I was really bad at math, and so I didn't apply myself the way I should have when I went on to high school. Things got really bad to the point I was on the verge of flunking geometry and possibly having to repeat a grade because of it. I was stressed out beyond belief. I had one last major test to prove myself and make up for the poor year I had had up to that point. The test was a super tests of sorts, a New York State oddity called a "regents" exam. I actually felt the cold dread of failure grip my heart as the day approached.

I studied my ass off like no sorry math cripple had ever studied before. Notes, text books, Regents-prep courses -- I did them all! And while I did actually pass the exam with a good grade, I of course thank none of these things for my success. :-)

No, you see, it is the book above that did it for me. I firmly believe this. Neverness is a hard book to get through, but it had a major impact on me nonetheless. The story takes place in the far future on an ice world colonized by humans thousands of years prior. The protagonist is a deep space pilot trainee studying to get his license. In this future, piloting spacecraft requires, among other traits, an affinity for complex mathematical algorithms and a near photographic memory to boot. The plot happened to be a really good one, too, which I suppose is why the book resonated with me. In any event, I used it as my inspiration when going to take my test. I pretended I was the protagonist, and that this regents exam was really my pilots exam. Except if I failed, I would die.

You think that's extreme, huh? Just remember, I was a 15 year old male in high school. Teenage boys dwell on that sort of high melodrama. :)

Anyway, the book actually opened up a love of mathematics for me. While I would never be deemed brilliant at the subject, I wasn't too shabby, either, for the rest of my years in high school. I was particularly good at trig, which surprised me. Everything about it just clicked for me. I ended up getting a 108% score on my final -- 100% for getting every single problem correct, and an additional 8 points for answering both extra credit questions correctly too! I was on fire that year!

I then went on to college and completed Calculus I and II when I thought I would be preparing for Med school. Yeah, the whole doctor thing fell through obviously, but at least I can say I faced my childhood fears concerning math and overcame them (and then some!) I'm proud of that much.

But it just goes to show the power of a young mind sufficiently motivated. One of my dreams is to someday have enough money or clout to produce an interactive sci-fi video game that uses mathematics in a fun way to, I dunno, power fighter ships through space or build suped-up, badass mech fighters or something. Basically, something that would appeal to a teenage boy or girl and show them that math can be fun if you spin it a certain way.

I'm serious. I would really *love* to make this happen someday.

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