Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Trigonometry

I was having dinner at my father's last night and ended up helping my little brother with his homework. He's 17. Not that little. Also, I'm pretty sure it was AP (state approved college credit) level physics.

He was tasked with figuring out the resultant direction and magnitude of force when two distinct farces are applied to the same object at an angle to each other. Think to oxen side-by-side pulling the same cart. Like "Oregon Trail." (Even if you don't get physics or weird analogies, everybody gets Oregon Trail.)

It's comforting to know that I'm still capable of this level trigonometry after six years out of the math game. I was always good at math. The irony of my school career was enjoying being good at everything short of gym class. I could have done anything. Teachers always wanted me to go into their field. I liked trig.

Then we hit pre-calc and there were curves. Fucking curves, man. What the shit are curves doing? All curvy? Let me say this about calculus: Trigonometry has existed for 3500 years. Calculus has existed for 350. Judging by how hard it was for unmitigated geniuses to get calculus up and working, I'm going to go ahead and say that it is at least TEN TIMES harder than trigonometry.

Anyway, I aced pre-calc, but that's not the point.

The point is, I dare say, that high school physics homework and calculus are perhaps the greatest offenders of a phenomenon that plagues every branch of the sciences: "scientists can't write words for shit."

Seriously, I think it's gotten worse since I was in school. The word problems are completely incomprehensible, utilize situational models that no rational human being would ever encounter, and are generally tasks that never require a numeric answer.

"How much energy would a single rope require to move the car out of the ditch and in what direction relative to the bisection of the two-rope example?" The answer is "However fucking much it takes to get my car out of this goddam hole."

Worse still, something has caused people to demand the use of directions formed as "North of West." Apparently "Northwest" is wrong. I assume because Northwest is a legitimate direction while many answers would be "generally Northwest-ish." Stupid.

Once again I'm convinced that my high school career was marred by my own terrible ability to test well. Apparently, no one ever expects you to read English, decipher dumb-speak and actually figure out what you're supposed to be doing.

I take it back. Nothing about high school has changed whatsoever.

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