When you sit in front of a computer all day like I do, the temptation to look at interesting websites is, well, tempting. And sometimes that temptation leads me to purchase items from those websites. And once you do that, they have to mail stuff to you. That puts you on their mailing lists. Then they send you catalogs. Forever.
And they sell your email address and your snail mail address to anyone they want to. So I get some odd stuff, and I get some interesting stuff: a catalog for “goddesses,” for example, featuring “vixen” clothing, not exactly my style, arrives the same day as one from JC Penney, also not my style, but which must have given our mail carrier a bit of whiplash.
I reached for the LL Bean catalog (more my style) tucked in the middle of all this and took in the comfort of its Caslon typeface and tried to feel the nap of the chamois shirt with my cheek—maybe because I miss Maine, maybe to shake off that goddess catalog.
But yesterday’s mail also brought another catalog from that place that offers great courses, I mean Great Courses, I mean THE GREAT COURSES. You know, you send them money, they send you DVDs or CDs of lectures by leading professors on the history of European art or the joy of astronomy or argumentation: the study of effective reasoning. All for a reasonable charge, of course.
This is what inspired me. No, not the reasonable charge. We’ll deal with that later.
It was the description of the courses that inspired me.
I was fired up to learn something. Old Testament? New Testament? The Art of Critical Decision Making? Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution? These were indeed THE GREAT COURSES.
The various courses on brain matters (pun!) caught my eye. Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills. Understanding The Mysteries Of Human Behavior. Understanding The Brain. Egad. How to choose!
Then I turned the page. There was the right course, the one and only course for me, the course that would challenge me, push me beyond all reasonable limits and at the same time give me a skill I could maybe someday actually use, not to mention bragging rights, and maybe homework help for my son.
Or, more precisely: Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear. See, doesn’t that sound friendly? And the blurb that accompanies it compares calculus to Beethoven’s symphonies, which I understand fully.
The blurb (which is nearly a page long) also says: “…the course takes the approach that every equation is in fact also a sentence that can be understood, and solved, in English.”
Hey, that’s my language! I speak it every day! And I’m writing in it right now!
The blurb continues: “It requires only a basic acquaintance with beginning high-school-level algebra and geometry.”
O.K., stop snickering. Yes, I know I am defeated by long division, thanks to that blasted stroke, but that’s what calculators are for. And that’s not algebra anyway. That’s—that’s—fourth grade math, and dear Mrs. Monell taught it to me, and it’s gone forever, but I remember the concept at least, and I think that’s what is important here.
Algebra is a bit tricky. I had two years of algebra in high school, more or less, mostly less, because the second year was more of a social gathering than anything else. I’m trying very hard to remember what we were taught in that class, and all I can really recall is sitting around in a circle on cozy chairs and chatting about anything we wanted, but that can’t be right, can it? We were a hand-selected group of seniors, at a school that did not believe in “honors” classes.
The teacher was a tall, spectral man, given to long discourses on topics unrelated to mathematics. He had more than a passing interest in a girl a year younger than I; he ended up marrying her. If I learned anything in this class, I must assume it too was lost in the stroke explosion.
As for geometry, this was one class where I wish I hadn’t done so well. The teacher’s name was Mr. Sharpe, and most of the kids didn’t like him. I adored him. He was rather elfin, and strict. He would explain the topic, and we would work out the exercises, and he would wander among us, correcting our work and explaining further. Not to brag, but I excelled. I loved this class.
I did so well that Mr. Sharpe pulled me out of it and sat me in the back all by myself at a bigger table and had me compile his bowling league averages instead. Lots and lots of adding and subtracting and percentages. No geometry. I could do the geometry in five minutes, while walking down the hall.
I was too good for his class. He adored me.
See? I wasn’t always a math dolt.
So for a mere $39.95, discounted from $254.95 (wow!), I can learn, at my own pace, in 24 half-hour lectures, one of which is entitled, Owls, Rats, Waves, and Guitars, all about calculus.
Am I nuts? Maybe. Probably.
Downside: Blowing 40 bucks. Frustrating myself with something I cannot do.
Upside: Triumphing by reawakening my math brain. Learning calculus.
Inside: Fear and trembling.
Outside: Cloudy, chance of rain.