“You lack the ability to think.”

Yet another inspiring underdog story, reinforcing the ‘you can learn anything’ statement. Jessica Su is a computer science PhD student at Stanford who’s teacher though she lacked the ability to think. Well they were quite wrong. The following text is an answer to What was your most empowering experience or decision? on Quora.

Learning how to write proofs.

“When I was eight, I took a geometry class, and I did pretty badly because I was used to memorizing formulas, and didn’t know how to solve problems I’d never seen before.  I was hopeless at proofs, and my teacher said I lacked the ability to think.  Sometime in middle school I stopped memorizing formulas, and retook geometry with much better results.  But I was used to thinking of myself as someone who was bad at math and couldn’t write real proofs.

In 9th grade I went to a math summer program.  Many of my classmates had qualified for the USA Mathematical Olympiad, while I hadn’t made it past the first stage of the competition.  I had some trouble with the test they used to screen applicants, and when I got there I didn’t understand a lot of the material.  But I enjoyed the challenge, I guess because I was used to being owned.

When I got home I felt bad because I didn’t understand abstract algebra, and it seemed like a beautiful thing to learn.  So in 10th grade I took a correspondence course at the University of Iowa, and I learned about things like “homomorphisms” and “normal subgroups.”  By the end of my junior year I’d completed the entire math sequence at my high school, including differential equations, linear algebra, discrete math, and graph theory.  So I went to college.

My freshman year I was convinced I was mediocre at math, and nowhere near as good as those math contest geniuses.  Most of the freshmen took Math 1a (proof-based calculus), which was supposed to be a tough course that discouraged people from majoring in math.  To my surprise, my progress report said I was one of the top five students, and had the highest final exam grade in the entire freshman class.

That’s when I realized I could learn pretty much anything, even stuff I am hopelessly terrible at.  A few years later I started doing CS – another thing I was hopelessly terrible at, where I’m now pretty decent.” –Jessica Su

The amount of children who underestimate their potential, because of derogatory teachers,  is astronomical. They should be reeducated to say the least.

“Stifling a child’s curiosity should be regarded as child abuse.” –Peter Flom

PS I currently have exams coming up, so thank you for understanding the lack of content.


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