Friday, 8 October 2010


A dialogue on the AP Calculus EDG about whether homework should be graded or not (or even given) led Dan Teague to contribute the following short poem by Ralph Boas, who was a professor at Northwestern for thirty or so years. Having just finished grading a pre-calc test in which several students had decided that (-3)/(-4) = -(3/4) and many, many more had given me the so common as to be beyond surprising simplification of (x-3)^2 = x^2 + 9 may have colored my identification with the poem.

Prerequisites, by Ralph Boas

How could you be a cowhand
If you couldn't ride a horse?
If you yearn to cook for gourmets
You'll need some food, of course.
You can master many subjects
If you only have the will;
But how do you hope to cope with calculus If your algebra is nil?

How could you sing in opera
If you haven't any voice?
If music seems too difficult
There is another choice.
Rewards in Math are plenty
But this obstacle looms big:
How can you shine in calculus
If you won't learn any trig?

Ralph Boas is often remembered for another literary/math creation, "A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting", published in the American Mathematical Monthly.
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