Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Clinton: "Clawing my way through a maze"

"The most challenging course I took in high school was calculus. There were seven of us in that class, it had never been offered before. One day the teacher, Mr. Coe, handed an exam in which I had all the right answers but a grade reflecting that I'd missed one. When I asked about it, Mr. Coe said I hadn't worked the problem properly, and therefore must have gotten the correct answer by accident, so he couldn't give me credit for it. In the textbook the answer required several more steps than I had used. Our class had one true genius, Jim McDougal (no, not the Whitewater one), who asked if he could see the paper. He then told Mr. Coe he should give me credit because my solution was as valid as the one in the textbook, indeed better, because it was shorter. He then volunteered to demonstrate the validity of his opinion. Mr. Coe was just as much in awe of Jim's brain as the rest of us, so he told him how to get ahead. Jim then proceded to fill two full blackboards with symbolic mathematical formulas analyzing the problem and demonstrating how I had improved on the textbook's solution. You could have fooled me. I had always liked solving puzzles, still do, but I was just clawing my way through a maze. I didn't have a clue about what Jim was saying, and I'm not sure Mr. Coe did either, but at the end of his bravura performance I got my grade changed. That incident taught me two things: that in problem solving, sometimes good instincts can overcome intellectual inadequacy; and that I had no business pursuing advanced mathematics any further."

Bill Clinton, My Life

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