When I was in the seventh grade, I was one of those girls who described herself as “bad at math”. I was in the advanced group, yes, a year ahead of most of my peers. While most would take pre-algebra and then algebra, entering into geometry in high school, I and my fellow young nerds were going to take algebra and then geometry, entering into algebra II in high school. Nevertheless, I was “bad at math”. It was harder for me to grasp than English, or history. I got an A- in the class, but surely that minus sign meant I was “bad at math”. After all, most of the girls I knew were “bad at math”. Those who didn’t identify that way were, well… Asian.
The next year, in geometry, I found myself actually enjoying the material. We did proofs, and I got to see how mathematics hadn’t always been so cut and dry, so set in stone. People, once upon a time, had argued about this stuff. Pythagorus—an actual person—had come up with a theorem so many years ago, and here we were still using it today. I say math less as well… math, and more how I thought of science: people researching, testing things, building off each other’s ideas, stretching their knowledge and the knowledge of our collective world farther and farther. I… liked math? But no, that couldn’t be right. Nobody really liked math, did they?
As the year progressed, I kept a very steady high A. I did my homework—almost enjoyed my homework, although it was still tedious once I found out that all the problems asked the same thing—and eventually I took the standardized test at the end of the year, took the final test, and passed the class. However, we still had a few days left before the semester ended, so my teacher decided to regale us with the types of math we could study in the future if we continued to do well.
At this point, I was aware of math as a varied multitude of sub-subjects under the larger heading of mathematics. There was algebra, of course, and then there was geometry. I didn’t know much more than that, however. As my teacher wrote out course names on the board, “Algebra II, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra,” I was amazed. The sheer volume of it! Math! Nobody had ever told me that there were so many different types, so many things you could do with it. In my mind it had always been sorted in with other kinds of drudgery and things I didn’t want to do. Now it was… interesting. It was something that smart, interesting people did, and used, and contributed to. And no offense to linear algebra, and not to sell myself short, but my goal from then on was to take… multivariable calculus.
I mean, say it out loud. Let the words roll off your tongue.
Sounds nice, yeah? It sounded nice to me. And impressive, and cool, and just… multivariable calculus.
You’re crazy, you might be saying. It’s just a math class.
Is it, though?
For me, multivariable calculus was a dream. Whenever things got a little difficult, or a little confusing, and I looked at other girls dropping out of math their junior years, saying, “You don’t need math to make babies,” (that’s a real quote, by the way, I didn’t just make that up) I remembered multivariable calculus. I needed to get there. I needed to do that.
As I type this, I have a literal smile of glee on my face because GUESS WHERE I AM? Spoiler alert, it’s college. And GUESS WHAT I’M TAKING?
If you guessed underwater basket-weaving, you would be dead wrong because the real answer, folks, is MULTIVARIABLE CALCULUS! And Physics 1A and History of Modern Thought, but those two are not the point.
And yes, if you’re asking this, I am still as excited about this class now that it’s real as I was when it was just a far off goal. I still find it pretty amazing, the way math can describe so many different things and do so many different things. And that’s not to say that I don’t have to work hard—I do. And that’s not to say I don’t sometimes have a pang of fear before I raise my hand, lest I be thought stupid or incapable. But all in all, I’m basically living the dream here. I mean, multivariable calculus!!!! (I’m fangirling over math right now, if you couldn’t already tell.)