On Attendance in Calculus …

For some of us, calculus is somewhat, if not wholly, difficult and frustrating! However, calculus itself—at least in most instances—is not the difficult part, it's the messy algebra and trigonometry that are inexorably linked to the calculus that present the greatest challenge. You might think of calculus as the "putting all together" of algebra and trigonometry (at least at our level, anyway).

Sometimes, we have a hard time understanding what is being done in the calculus, even when we are sitting right there in class, watching our professor work examples out on the board, scratching our heads in bewilderment, and we have to ask a question to help us understand. There is a key concept in what I have just said. Let's call it the Attendance Theorem. Suppose you are not in class. If the professor works out a calculus example that you do not understand, then your knowledge of that fact will be equal to zero. Finally—a calculus problem that any of us can solve: you have to be "sitting right there in class" to know that you aren't getting it, and to ask that all-important question, no matter how embarrassed you might feel for not "knowing." Chances are, there will be at least three other people who want to ask the very same question but are too afraid to step up!

You're probably wondering by now, where am I going with all of this? Well, this semester, I fell victim to an illness that put me out of commission for more than a week. It has been several weeks now since I have returned, and I am still not caught up. What's more, the semester is coming to a close, and finals are looming. Because I missed so many lectures (four or five), I have conjectured that I can never be sick again!! Not that that's unrealistic, right? The problem is, I have to try and work out the exercises on my own (and you think it's hard when the professor shows you?) with no notes (or answered questions) to work from, until my next visit to the professor's office. Needless to say, the learning process in this context can be excruciatingly long and drawn-out—obviously, something that there is just not enough time for. So, when you are able (willing or not), why not take advantage of the time period in which the professor is definitely available to you—the lecture? Missing even one lecture can hurt your chances of truly succeeding in calculus. So, if you "ditch," because you have decided, for instance, that the nice weather is far more important than a calculus lecture, you not only make more work for yourself, you harm no one but yourself. Well, maybe your family, too. The thing is, F's are just plain ugly on a transcript, and they will follow you throughout your career more faithfully than even the most loyal of dogs!

Howard Hafford Sr., A.S.
Monday, April 18, 2005