Like many of the kids I grew up around, my parents had always geared me toward a math-based education; and like them, I’d always ask myself, “What’s the point of this?” I guess it’s a way to push us toward a lucrative career: such as finance, medicine, or engineering, but sometimes, there’s simply no need for us to implement the quadratic equation in real life. Nonetheless, I was good at math. I liked the patterns of math, which made it easy to navigate.
My parents pushed me to be good at math after noticing I started finding interest in conspiracy theories, or anything unrelated to math. And like many other parents, mine wanted me to grow into a math career. More importantly, they wanted me to understand the finer details of the world, and math best reflected that. My mom taught me the concept of negative integers and fractions on the way to school when I was only six, and my dad only expected me to do math homework and nothing else.
Then, they enrolled me in Kumon, and while the institution does have a bad reputation for their emotional turmoil on children, it helped me get ahead for a while. My math teachers knew that I wasn’t supposed to be in their class, based on how I’d finish the problem for the class because my teachers couldn’t do mental math at my speed. I learned polynomial equations at the age of 11, and by the time I was a freshman, Kumon had me learning the basics of calculus. I quit the program in my sophomore year because I hated the trigonometry-focused Level M.
My high school was a magnet college preparatory school, meaning that everyone was presumed to be academically well-rounded and hardworking people. With a vast set of extracurriculars and after-school programs, everyone was bound to be a part of at least two significant activities. Because of the amount of math I did as a child, I wanted to follow the STEM route. I went through the engineering program for two years and tried to put myself in coding programs outside of school. But I physically could not sit there for hours and get a website assignment or a house calculation completed.
I noticed other kids at my school in the same programs, including the CREATE mentoring program, Mathletes, or MESA, and I would admire them, mostly for the way they could apply the math they learned, in addition to their creative and innovative talent that I didn’t have. My peers knew what they wanted to do in their life, and had high hopes for a lucrative career. That was the difference between those kids and me — while all of us were good at math, they were able to make something pioneering, whereas I could only follow instructions on how to integrate.
I know I’m not the only one who feels like this, as AP Calculus AB tested everyone’s math performance. Kumon set me up for the class quite nicely — I breezed through the course, getting a 4 on the exam. For a lot of my peers who took the class, however, it was a nightmare. By the time the exam came around, no one expected a free-response question this difficult, nor did anyone expect to apply the calculus we learned to such a complex scenario. I earned my 4 on the exam, but it wasn’t a 5. That was the moment I decided I would rather take AP Statistics next year for a change. From my friends who took Calculus BC, it was rather brutal, even for those who did pretty well in AB. I was frightened of it, too.
I peeped into the Calculus BC classroom, and it was the MESA, Mathletes, and engineering program kids, along with those who were forced to take the class. This was when the divide between those who were good at math and those who had creative talent with math was evident. At first, I felt ashamed, mainly for the way that certain BC students were pretentious enough to paint AP Stats as the “coward’s way out” of real math.
After many failed tests and calluses on my fingers from AP Stats, I soon realized that it was not the “coward’s way out.” The main difference was that statistics is analytical, which was much different from the logical calculus I was acclimated to. It wasn’t fair for anyone to claim it as the “easier” math when it truly is its own subject.
Weeks flew by of being ashamed of how I felt I couldn’t prove myself, and sulking about how I should’ve taken BC; I eventually grew into appreciating statistics — that analyzing data, conducting research, and communicating problems was something of its own. I stopped desiring to be the one who yearned to fulfill the “Woman in STEM” role, rather, taking the classes that I found interest in, which were more applicable to me.
The pathway I had been set up for took a turn once I decided to take AP Statistics, and I don’t regret making this decision one bit. Instead of forcing myself to push for a lucrative career, and feeling ashamed for not fitting in with the “future engineers” of our school, regardless of whether or not I took Calculus BC, I took a turn. I found myself learning another subject and applying analytic principles of statistics, which could still put me in a successful job, other than engineering.
Editors: Chris F. Leandra S., Joyce S.
Photo Credits: Dan Cristian - Unsplash