01-16-2015, 06:12 AM

I've been studying remedial math for about the past month or so. Less than a week ago, I reached what the text told me is the sixth-grade math level in the US. Since then some college math majors have told me that the material I'm currently working on is actually something they started covering in seventh-grade advanced math and non-advanced students don't start covering until eighth or ninth grade, but that didn't really matter, because I totally expect any high school kid to have covered this material and be an expert at it already. I used to think that discussing my remedial math studies would be bad for my self-esteem.

How wrong I was.

Recently, I was hanging out in a moderated online chatroom where I'm a regular, and there were several other regulars present, most of them college students but also a few high school kids and one or two working adults. One expressed an interest in my remedial math self-study, so I presented them with some version of the following math problem:

"If you travel from Point A to Point B for 17 minutes at 7 miles per hour, and then travel back at 19 miles per hour, what is your average speed over the trip both ways?"

Several people instantly said you just add 7 and 19 and divide by 2. I explained to them that that's wrong, because time travelled there is not the same as time travelled back. Most of them understood my explanation but there was one 11th-grade high school kid who kept stubbornly insisting that "the speed differential and time differential cancel each other out." At this point four people bowed out of the conversation saying they hate math. One of those people is about to graduate with a B.A. and is applying to law school! Most of the others abandoned the effort to solve the problem, but one person doggedly worked on it for about 20 minutes until he'd developed a simplified formula to solve it (which, although simplified, was far from simple). Of c ourse, I had already learned how to solve this type of problem, so I just watched.

I managed to get in touch with some college math graduates and math majors and they had no trouble with the problem, but described it as "a bit too hard for sixth-graders." I haven't been able to talk to any people who haven't finished high school math yet but are beyond the ninth-grade level to see whether they can figure it out as well.

Long story short, it looks like I'm already better at math than nearly everybody I socialize with, including some people who have been more academically successful than me (I have about two years of college on a B.A. track). That's a reason to feel good, but also a bit sad.

Thank you for reading.

How wrong I was.

Recently, I was hanging out in a moderated online chatroom where I'm a regular, and there were several other regulars present, most of them college students but also a few high school kids and one or two working adults. One expressed an interest in my remedial math self-study, so I presented them with some version of the following math problem:

"If you travel from Point A to Point B for 17 minutes at 7 miles per hour, and then travel back at 19 miles per hour, what is your average speed over the trip both ways?"

Several people instantly said you just add 7 and 19 and divide by 2. I explained to them that that's wrong, because time travelled there is not the same as time travelled back. Most of them understood my explanation but there was one 11th-grade high school kid who kept stubbornly insisting that "the speed differential and time differential cancel each other out." At this point four people bowed out of the conversation saying they hate math. One of those people is about to graduate with a B.A. and is applying to law school! Most of the others abandoned the effort to solve the problem, but one person doggedly worked on it for about 20 minutes until he'd developed a simplified formula to solve it (which, although simplified, was far from simple). Of c ourse, I had already learned how to solve this type of problem, so I just watched.

I managed to get in touch with some college math graduates and math majors and they had no trouble with the problem, but described it as "a bit too hard for sixth-graders." I haven't been able to talk to any people who haven't finished high school math yet but are beyond the ninth-grade level to see whether they can figure it out as well.

Long story short, it looks like I'm already better at math than nearly everybody I socialize with, including some people who have been more academically successful than me (I have about two years of college on a B.A. track). That's a reason to feel good, but also a bit sad.

Thank you for reading.

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