The Graphing Calculator

When I first moved to Canada I was simultaneously shocked and pleasantly relieved to find out that calculators are mandatory in high schools. 

My Math 30 Pure teacher told me on the first day of class that I need to buy a particular graphing calculator called Texas Instruments Ti-83 in order to be able to keep up. I looked around and saw everyone using the same calculator. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a spare one at the time that I could borrow for the whole year.

I went back home and told my mother, a single parent who just immigrated to a country 10000 kilometres away from everything she knew for a chance to give me and my brother a better life, that I need a graphing calculator worth more than all of our possessions combined.  

My mom now has her own successful landscaping construction business but back then we didn’t have much money, and yet she still volunteered to go look for a graphing calculator.  

The next day when I came back home from school my mom quipped about how she found a great calculator at a price we can afford. The merchant who sold it to her had confirmed that this is what Canadian kids use in school so she was very happy that she was able to provide for me like a Canadian parent would provide for her Canadian child.

I looked at the calculator and my heart shrivelled. It was a regular calculator with no graphing capabilities. It didn’t even have any scientific options whatsoever.

I looked at my mom, the pride emanating from her eyes, and I lied that this was exactly what I needed. At least that’s the story I tell when I tell this story. In reality I just rolled my eyeballs demonstratively like a proper teenager and stormed off.

I thought to myself that I have to make it without that graphing calculator somehow. 

It was hard.

I excused myself to go to the washroom whenever there was an exercise that involved a graphing calculator in class, which was pretty much all the time. I started skipping on a regular basis.

My math teacher noticed that I’m skipping and threatened to call my mom. I told him to go ahead knowing that I gave the school the wrong number when I signed up because I didn’t have a phone at home yet.

The day of my Math high school diploma exam was the first day I got to use a graphing calculator. Unfortunately, it wasn’t useful at all because it is a fairly complicated machine that requires more than 5 minutes to figure out how to use it. I didn’t even have 5 minutes to figure out how to use it. I got it last minute before the exam started after I realized that there are spare calculators available during the exam only to students who forgot theirs at home.

I ended up not using the graphing calculator at all. I concentrated on solving the permutations word problems first because they didn’t require the use of a graphing calculator. The questions that did require a graphing calculator were all multiple choice. I remember wishing I had graph paper.

I barely passed my Math 30 Pure High School diploma exam. I got 51 percent.

Years later I got into a Bachelor of Arts program at a local college and I desperately wanted to take an Astronomy class but one of its prerequisites was a grade of at least 70 percent in Math 30 Pure, and I only got 51 percent. I had to talk to an advisor if I wanted the prerequisite wavered. The advisor warned me that I’ll probably fail the Astronomy class but I begged her so she finally agreed to sign the waiver.

I got 80 percent in the Astronomy class, and I got into a Bachelor of Science in Physics program at the University of Alberta. 

There I noticed a trend. I seemed to do better and better in Mathematics unlike most Canadian students who wanted to become teachers in Mathematics. In the first year Mathematics classes I got mostly Cs, in the second year Mathematics classes I got mostly Bs, and in the third and fourth year I only got As. 

This could be because in my third and fourth year I dropped out of Mathematics classes where I got less than 80 percent on the first exam.

Or it could be because in Higher Mathematics university classes graphing calculators are strictly forbidden.

Either way, I graduated with a degree in Mathematical Sciences, which encompasses Mathematics, Statistics, and Computing Science. I now have a successful business, which allows me to spend a lot of time thinking about Higher Mathematics. I've authored 5 mathematical sequences and I came up with numerous algorithms, and conjectures.

As it turned out, I never truly cared that much for Physics and Astronomy but I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had any doubts that I have the intrinsic aptitude to pass that Astronomy class.

The educational system in Canada has many skeletons in its closet and the graphing calculator issue is just the tip of the iceberg.

For many years the Canadian educational system used religion to segregate and make certain part of the population feel inferior. I’m talking about residential schools where Native Canadian children were sent to up until the mid 90s. 

In these schools, young children were often abused physically and mentally to a point where many of them and their children either don’t feel like they have the intrinsic aptitude to pass an Astronomy class or they doubt, rightfully so, that the Astronomy teacher would have the intrinsic aptitude to recognize their potential. 

The current government is trying to get an official apology from the Catholic church about these residential schools and that’s just some political nonsense that won’t solve the underlying problem. 

The underlying problem is that the same teachers who taught at residential schools are now on school boards that get to decide who and how the educational system should work for all Canadians.

In order for this country to thrive and prosper in the future, every decision maker must be vetted over and over again until they can prove that they hold no bias.

The apology for the residential schools needs to come from the Catholic school board as a whole, and from every teacher involved in this cultural genocide.

Because this is what happened here in these residential schools: a cultural genocide.

For this reason the educational system here needs a major reform: it needs to cater to students who don’t necessarily have money for expensive calculators, who don’t necessarily have housing security, and who don’t necessarily have communal infrastructure that they can rely on.