Math students push beyond curricular limits

Gary Gao ’21 and Daniel Hou ’22 at November’s Math League Olympiad – photo courtesy of Communications

Mathematics is generally acknowledged as one of the most challenging high school subjects. 

     It includes tedious equation-solving, nerve-racking critical thinking, and for those who take it to high levels, time-consuming work. Frustration makes most people not even want to see a single equation after mandatory high school classes. 

     If you go to Dr. Gottlieb’s classroom during the Calculus II* class, you’ll notice some younger faces inside the senior elective. At the end of Haverford’s math track, these students will have to decide what classes to take next year. It sounds astounding, because being that far ahead involves a lot of individual work outside of the classroom. But leading math students have different perspectives: they do math because they are guided by sincere interest or potential outcomes. 

      Math is one of the most precise subjects. The foundations of math are self-explanatory, and math adheres to those foundations with strict logic. In contrast, as famous physicist Freeman Dyson stated, science is full of “unclear conjectures” and “flexibility.” And what about literature and history? Literature is definitely not precise because of the vagueness of the human mind, as is history, which is often up to interpretation. Therefore, math represents superior precision, and those who pursue abstract precision in their lives pursue math. 

“I just think it is a human obligation to do math.”

Gary Gao ’21

     “I just think it is a human obligation to do math,” Fifth Former Gary Gao said. “Math’s precision is the combination of the wisdom of all human beings that ever lived on Earth. The strict chain of logic from proof-writing and the excitement from getting the answer gets you closer to the majestic wisdom of human civilization, which thrills every math enthusiast. The thrill enables me to sit beside the table and concentrate on math.”

     Being in a higher-level math class in a lower grade means that you can participate in an independent study program and do even higher levels of math, which definitely highlights one’s math talent. Additionally, if no independent study is available, finishing higher-level math early enables you to pursue other interests in high school, making you a “well-rounded” student while maintaining an outstanding math record. 

     However, students should not force themselves to do higher-level math because of its effects on college applications. If doing math is painful, one should pursue the passions that ignite them, as math does to Gao. A person with no interest in math is unable to endure the solitude of staring at a single math problem. This person should pursue what he is interested in. Dyson quit his pursuit of math because he loved the “flexibility” of physics.

     “I like imagining all kinds of crazy stuff, and the preciseness of math inhibited me from doing so. So I quit,” Dyson said.

     Dyson made significant contributions in the field of physics, and his name will be in the history books forever because of his “crazy” Dyson Ball project. Dyson’s story demonstrates that pursuing what is interesting to you is a key to success.