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Statistically, failing class just didn't add up

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I have always blamed my mediocre math ability on heritage or being a "creative," right-brained, left-handed individual. My mind wasn't designed for math, I tell myself. There is no use force-feeding it. Plenty of people are happy to spend their lives crunching numbers and solving mysterious algorithms, without my help.

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Despite my disinterest in the mathematics, I sort of rode the waves for a while and stayed in the median grade level of my college-level Statistics course. As the homework kept flooding in, though -- in packets longer and denser than some of my columns -- the original B turned to a C, which continued into D country at a rate that unsettled even me, who had vowed to give up caring about grades at semester break.

Every once in a while, I would glance at my expanding binder and squirm a little. Sooner or later, I would have to do something about Stats or throw in the towel entirely. Like any other problem, though, I ignored facing the monster that Stats had become, and vowed to not let the burden weigh too heavily while I tried to enjoy myself doing other things.

About a month ago -- realizing the end of the year is arriving fast -- I switched modes and decided I had to become The Ideal Statistics Student until this monster was slain. After all, an F on my final report card might mean rejection from The U, and then what?

So I put down the guitar and picked up my calculator, estimating with 90 percent confidence that if I retook three tests a week, I would be up to a passing grade by the Tuesday on the last week of school. Considering the mean rate throughout the year was around a test a month, I had to get busy.

I sat hunched over my desk late into the night, punching numbers into a calculator and trying not to ask myself the obvious question: when am I going to use this in life? I knew, somewhere inside me, that I would be better off reading the latest Rolling Stone than The Joy of Stats, if my predictions are statistically significant at any level.

But as the harried days wore on, I began to notice my perception change even when I wasn't doing homework. I started seeing things in a more cut-and-dried, scientific light.

Statistics was having an influence over me, and one that I wasn't entirely comfortable with. I considered myself a self-traitor for abandoning my open-minded outlook by sleeping with the enemy of a rigid, mathematical state of mind.

I stared at the stars at night and wondered if I would soon see them only as rocks covered in molten lava, not wondrous constellations of the gods; I lay in my bed and realized that -- with all the information and understanding science has given us -- I have no ghosts to be afraid of, and no reason to give my light switch three up-down flicks every night before bed. I'm just wearing the bulb out.

I couldn't decide if I was broadening my range or losing my inner child through this undeniable process of perceptual reinvention. Was I finally seeing the world for what it truly is: a place where information is truth and science can explain everything?

I questioned my life-long philosophy of thinking "outside the box," wondering to myself if my haphazard approach is right. Maybe the world around us was made to be understood with numbers and equations, not simply appreciated with words. In spite of my misgivings, though, I pressed on and came out of Stats victorious.

Now, with the heat of that frenzy behind me, I can return to things I enjoyed before A.P. Statistics briefly devoured my life. Music is beautiful again, I can think as creatively as I ever did before the rush, and the world is no longer colored black and white, but in infinite and beautiful shades of gray.

I can also begin to approach the question of my brain type on more reasonable terms. No, I have not decided to pursue math in college, but I can understand why someone with a head for numbers would. I could never love Statistics, but I now respect it as an enemy.

Nathan Kitzmann is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.

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