What is math? Is math a science? Simply a class? No. Math is an art. You probably didn’t expect that one. I sure didn’t. Why would math be an art? There is nothing creative or individual about math. Or so I thought. Mathematicians use imagination, creativity, and wonder (just like painters, musicians, and writers do) to brainstorm ideas and possible solutions to problems.
Lockhart is saying in this section that in today’s world of mathematics, the imagination, creativity, and wonder side (the art) of math has been lost. Math is not presented as an art, but as a set of rules. Today, when approached with a problem or difficult question, students (including myself) yearn for a formula or step-by-step process that will lead us to the answer without much effort–or brainpower. We don’t approach the situation with imagination, wonder, or creativity. In my high school math career, I have been presented with formula after formula and been told, “This is how you solve the problem.” I’m good at plugging in numbers to the slope formula and endless other equations, but am I really good at math? My mathematical “thinking outside the box skills” have been lost, if really, they were even present. Now in Calculus, I am being forced to actually think. Like, legit thinking. And quite honestly (I think the majority of my classmates would agree with me) it’s hard.
As I was reading this section, and now while I am responding, I am experiencing some interesting feelings. I feel a bit cheated. Why have I been presented with millions of formulas from the get-go, and not encouraged to at least attempt to find my own, creative solution (and maybe I have been, but it just doesn’t seem to be so)? To actually practice math as an art? I find that I now have an aversion to problems that require other skills beyond formula-crunching. Would this not be the case if my math education had been presented differently? How am I to change my approach to math since I am already far along in my mathematical career?
I think approaching math as an art, and not as a set of rules (at least from the start…Lockhart doesn’t not believe in providing formulas and step-by-step processes, just not right at the beginning.) would be more beneficial to the students of today. And even though it may be more difficult…more imagination, creativity, and mathematics needs to take place in the math room!