A Mathematician’s Lament, Parts 3 and 4: Continuing the Trek


No, I haven’t forgotten about AML. Reading this article can be very mind-boggling and intense; taking it slow is what I have to do.

In Parts 3 & 4, Lockhart continues to talk about math in today’s world. Lockhart included a conversation between Simplicio (the reader who has questions about Lockhart’s approach to math) and Salviati (Lockhart). It gives a chance for the questions–that Lockhart seemed to know readers would have–to be explained and answered. I enjoyed this.

Below I discuss points that jumped out at me as I read:

1. The teaching style and understanding of mathematics continues to repeat itself. Students of today learn math from their teachers; teachers learn math from their teachers. The cycle seems indefinite. When did mathematics disappear, and today’s style kick in?

2. Why the bloody h-e-double-hockey-sticks do you even need to know math? Nobody (of course, not everyone) actually uses math in everyday life beyond basic operations! And even then, we have calculators and computers to calculate for us. However, saying this, there was a statement made in the article that irritated me just a smidgen. The statement was: “Do you think carpenters are out there using trigonometry?” I was irked because there are people out there who do think (I was getting the impression for a while that Lockhart basically thought everyone didn’t know how to use their thinkers.).  My dad, for example, a carpenter/remodeler, is always telling me what math he used that day, in particular, trig. So for the careers that will actually apply & use math, math is useful. Should math only be required for those seeking a math-filled future? Otherwise, are students wasting time in a subject that holds no appeal to them, or will not be extremely useful for them down the road?

3. Math class is mandatory. Lockhart put it best: “There is surely no more reliable way to kill enthusiasm and interest in a subject than to make it a mandatory part of the school curriculum.” High schoolers, and teenagers in general, seem be associated with fighting authority. Because they have to do something, it is less enjoyable; because math is required in school, instead of being offered, most kids hold a grudge against it. (A quick example: The cadets are West Point are required to attend all home football games. My brother said that, in a way, this takes away the thrill of going to the games because they must attend.) Going along with #2,  should math class be mandatory? I find it a bit hypocritical that school administrators require students to study math, when, do they even “know” math themselves? I know there would be students who would drop math like a hot potato if it wasn’t required; I also know students who would continue their math education. (Then, hopefully, the people who enjoy math and want to continue their mathematical education would be surrounded by others of the same nature, which, in my opinion, creates a satisfying and productive learning environment.)

Whew! All for now. Happy Wednesday!


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