Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's all just Duck Soup wrapped about The Bellboy


Follow along--you'll figure it out.

Last week I announced that for one of my fun classes this semester, I am enrolled in a class called "The Art of Comedy".  I was hoping there might be some performing, analysing of comedic plays, but alas, it is a horrible, relaxing evening, complete with popcorn and laughter, watching...COMEDIC FILMS.  Yes, I know--I live a rough life.

Below are my reviews of both films as I submitted them.  If you agree, if you don't agree, kindly comment on your thoughts and feelings on these two films.  That way I can learn more. (And to submit a comment, just click on "Snarks" and that will open the comment window.)

And now, sit back, don't spill soda on the floor (or I'll make you lick it up), no sharing of popcorn, and enjoy the show!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Just an Elaborate Hazing Ritual

That's what a friend called it when I asked him what the point was of Tennessee Tech's "shove it up your butt" method of learning.

"Just think of it as an elaborate hazing ritual that you must survive."

HA!  There it is.  The magic word:  SURVIVAL.

The reason I've been so conspicuously absent from this homey place is because I was accepted to Tennessee Tech University and began class on June 6, 2011 (as most of you already know).  That's when life as I knew it disappeared forever.

Since that time, I've been involved in a personal struggle for survival; I lost my financial aid thanks to the wise old owl, Obama, and am now working as a Teaching Assistant in both the Physics and Mathematics departments, since stupidly, that was in which fields I chose to double major.  I work about 30 hours per week, in addition to a full-time schedule of classes.  I've had TWO brand new laptop computers simply demagnetise and die on me within the same year I purchased them (which happens--the factories always ship to the distributor with a few bad sectors, and they have no way of knowing which ones are about to go bad, so it's a crap shoot as to how long it will last when you purchase any computer, really), and am now forced to use a computer donated to me by one of the professors for which I TA; I sweet talk the landlords, begging them for more time and flashing them from time-to-time with my incredibly awesome and powerful boobs; I am now on a first-name/bribery basis with the head supervisor at the electric company (and even know the names of her children); and I've even slept with a professor or three for an A.  It made me nostalgic for the two-and-a-half years I was homeless.

And you thought I was simply memorising formulas and learning how to calculate and integrate the area under the curve on a graph.  Stupid human.

But that's not the kind of survival I'm talking about, cheekily.

In reality and all seriousness (something you will hardly ever see me be on this blog), no one really knows what we go through--those of us who attend a science/tech-intensive school, such as Tennessee Tech, MIT, CalTech and CalSci, Georgia Tech, and I could go on.  They are now calling us the MIT of the South--that, from an MIT professor.  We are now the go-to Engineering school, and not Georgia Tech.  And with that reputation comes a lot of responsibility, preconceptions and, wait for it...PRESSURE.

The stress that we are under is incredible, and if you've never been in such an intensive environment, it would be difficult to grasp.  I wasn't aware, and in a lot of ways, wasn't prepared for it when I began.  Having one degree in music, I thought, well, I aced that, how hard can this be? Naivety:  the last bastion of the ignorant.  It took me about a year-and-a-half to realise just what was happening to me:  how I had to abandon old study techniques that had worked for me in the past and up my game just to keep pace; how suddenly, I needed to attend study groups--something I laughed at before; how I needed to memorise office hours, since I would be in there 1/3 of the time now, begging professors to drop extra gems of knowledge on my head, hoping it would soak in; how my "free time" would now be spent in homework, my house strewn with notebooks and textbooks; how it would be days before I could locate my three cats beneath those notebooks and textbooks.

And forget being sick:  there is no room (or compassion) for those who miss even a day; you are still expected to keep pace with the material and take exams on their scheduled days.  My question was, who the hell reads a textbook in between bouts of horking and fevered-chills??  I finally had to mount a book stand above my toilet. 

And yet, that's what's expected of us.

With this esteemed reputation also comes the preconceived notion that you will perform to national standards with grades.  Do you know the average Calculus student ends up retaking one of the three in the sequence (usually Calculus II--the most difficult) at least three times?  Why?  It's certainly not because we're stupid (a fact that my closest friends have had to remind me of several times when I failed an exam and automatically went to the "I'm too stupid to live" dark place).  I mean, we needed the requisite ACT scores to get accepted, so stupidity isn't it.  One of my professors said once that we should be required to retake it at least twice, since the material moves so quickly and this subject is so packed with information.

But do you know the dark reality of attending one of these schools?  You're expected to be good in math.  When you're accepted, the professors already expect you to know this stuff (isn't that why we're there--to learn it, for crap's sake?).

So why are so many engineering majors dropping out or changing their majors in droves, without a viable reason?  The math.  In the freshman math courses that I am a TA, I will ask the students in the beginning what their major is, and they will invariably say "engineering" of some kind.  And yet, by the end of the semester, their answer has changed to something like "business" or "criminal justice"--something without math.

I think this is sad, because the dark reality is that no one really teaches you how to study math; you're not taught how to study for a math exam (what?  you can study for a math exam??).

This summer I just finished retaking a Calculus course that I failed previously because of the cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve in my neck), and the professor I had was. simply. amazing.  I would worship at her feet for years to come if I could.  She is originally from India, and her father, a FAMOUS Indian physicist, was great in math.  She shared with me that in the 70s, NASA sought him out, due to his reputation, to work on the Saturn rocket programme, but because some of his friends passed on misinformation about NASA, stating it wasn't a reputable agency, he turned down the position--something he regretted until his dying day.  But she shared with the class that he put so much pressure on her to be good at math, too, that it created in her an intense test anxiety that included diarrhea, high fever, chills, and the wonderful vomiting.  I was mesmerised at her story, because I suffer extreme math test anxiety, too--something I was ashamed to admit or even share with anyone. (My high-school algebra teacher was a pimple.  All he wanted to do was be outside, coaching the girls' softball team, since he was their coach and they met during our 7th period class, so needless to say, I barely made it out of there with a D.)

But because of this woman sharing her story at how she had to develop skills to overcome that anxiety if she was to pass any math courses and graduate at all, I now have a clear set of skills and a logical, step-by-step way to approach my math-intensive courses:  physics, math and chemistry, with the confidence that I CAN conquer this anxiety and make great grades.  If I follow this paradigm, then I will be prepared for exams from day one and will never have to study for another math-intensive exam.

Sadly, however, not all professors share this bit of wisdom, or else they simply don't know about it.  A lot of our math professors are former Tech grads themselves, and for most, it simply came easy.  They can't relate to the fear of math or the severe test anxiety that makes me cry through most of my exams.  (Yes, sadly, that's true--my panic overtakes me so badly that I begin to cry, and then waste most of my time calming my ass down just so I can finish.)

And I know what you're thinking:  doesn't that school come equipped with a counseling centre?  Of course we do.  But the sad reality there is that when I sought them out my first summer to conquer my test anxiety, I knew more about it than they did, from simply Googling the subject and reading everything I could about it.  Do these counselors know anything about the intensive pressure we go through?  Nope, because they have counseling or psychology degrees, and those Humanities departments at other schools are nothing even remotely close to the difficulty of Bruner and Foster Halls (Physics/Math and Chemistry buildings) at Tn Tech.  They have not been through the "Elaborate Hazing Ritual" that those of us here must survive.

How do we stop the cycle, then?  I intend to begin by letting these arithmophobic students air those grievances in a support group, called "I 8-A pi"--the first official, "I hate math" support group.  Because, how can we begin to heal something if we don't acknowledge that it's broken first?  It will be a group where students can bitch about their high-school algebra teachers without fear of retribution or judgement, but at the same time, a place where I can then attempt to equip them with the tools I'm learning and developing for conquering test/math anxiety.

And in the wake of such math-intensive courses each semester (since I long-since completed my core curriculum and humanities requirements), next week I begin a course entitled, "The Art of Comedy".  I am going to attempt to blog about that class and my experiences in it each week, if the rest of the crap I'm taking doesn't kill me.  So stay tuned.

And in the meantime, the elaborate hazing ritual continues.

(I would love to hear your thoughts about your own experiences with math in the comments section.  The more data I get on varied experiences, the more it will help me with this new group.  Thank-you for reading!)