paul lockhart: a mathematician’s lament

08/10/2015

I would gladly admit upfront, to my learned biases (or jaundiced reflections based on my personal experiences, if you will).

I am of the opinion that almost all Christian missionary schools (or for that matter, schools belonging to any other denomination or abomination that is centrally organized) are really a bad idea, at best.

You may think that, I am happily generalizing based on a sample data size of one or even less. You may even be correct, I am open to that possibility. Yes.

However, of course, the truth is that I must have gotten ‘educated’ at a particularly bad missionary school – where, how actually my dear Jesus H Christ lived (by example and with compassion) was far removed from the context of the new-testamentish conversion fervour with which the school was run. In fact, Jesus would have actually run away from such pretentious schools which seek to belittle other cultures, faiths and individuals.

Later, I also learned that, while these schools did all the damage they could with gay abandon, they were also getting considerable financial support /  aid  from the Tamilnadu Government, to boot! This should have been in addition to the foreign funding that they routinely got to harvest more souls.

Uptil my 10th Grade or so,  I thought – only white Europeans were contemptuous of the black and brown natives & were therefore endlessly condescending (=‘The whiteman’s burden’). But it was with a sense of shock that I realized that a few of our own fellow folks were belittling their own folks! It was after I was finished with my 10th Std /SSLC exams waiting for results, that I got to know about the great Sir Thomas Babington Macaulay and his ilk and allied/assorted colonial machinations. Anyway…

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…The mathematics that was ‘taught’ in my school was actually really silly – but then our textbooks were also silly so I cannot really blame the teachers or the school. But I still recall with pleasure, the fact that a few of my classmates and I would huddle together in the back benches and feverishly solve the math text (of Tamilnadu state gov and NCERT books) of the next few academic years and this was lovely. except when…

Of course, whenever we were unfortunate enough to get caught in the act of not sticking to the 7th standard book by our dear math teacher (‘kanakku master’ if you will – and in those days of ‘native’ learning, I thought ‘master’ was always a male, and ‘teacher’ was always a female!!), our ears were boxed and our hides were tanned… More than that, there were torrents of irrelevant psalms of David that were spouted by him, which was way worse than getting beaten up… (though I hated these psalms in those days of innocence, after these many years, I have regained the balance to appreciate them for what they are;  this is because, my cuppa runneth over, my dear psalmist!)

…But doing interesting math sums was an exhilarating idea, even though the canings were very painful.

And ah, sometimes someone would bring Martin Gardnerish puzzles and solving them would be heavenly. Remembrance of things past and passé, what else…

Coming from this slightly shady background and having an endless angst about the way science, math, history etc etc are handled in most schools, I am convinced that the children have to get exposed to math (and of course every other ‘subject’) only in the loveliest possible, fascinating and a connection-rich way; that too, in their own specific and exhilarating ways in which children gainfully respond to the external stimuli.

I have faith in the children that they would instinctively gravitate towards the best things in life (given a set of meaningful choices) and may be at least some of them will continue to find math beautiful, well into their adulthoods… The hope!

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And so, it was with pleasure that I got this document extract from the Thekambattu folks and read it again! I recall that this document was doing the rounds in 2003 or thereabouts on the Internet math forums and I had chanced upon it earlier over IRC.  It was lovely. But I thought it was mainly a diatribe against US schooling system. And, now I reread it and it continues to be lovely and a very well formed document – and I think it is applicable to the most of the whole world, except perhaps the Russian schools…

Some extracts from the text:

There is such breathtaking depth and heartbreaking beauty in this ancient art form. How ironic that people dismiss mathematics as the antithesis of creativity. They are missing out on an art form older than any book, more profound than any poem, and more abstract than any abstract.

“TRIGONOMETRY. Two weeks of content are stretched to semester length by masturbatory definitional runarounds. Truly interesting and beautiful phenomena, such as the way the sides of a triangle depend on its angles, will be given the same emphasis as irrelevant abbreviations and obsolete notational conventions, in order to prevent students from forming any clear idea as to what the subject is about.

chuckle, chuckle

Please read the EXCELLENT document extract of Paul Lockhart’s book:  ‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ off the Mathematical Association of America website:

http://www.maa.org/external_archive/devlin/devlin_03_08.html

Enjoy! It is well worth the investment…

Read this tome, it will set you free, truly and verily… (amazon)

Screenshot from 2015-10-08 06:05:33

JournalEntry 27th July, 2010 + updated today!

(Thanks a lot to Ramanan for rekindling the lament y’day!)

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2 Responses to “paul lockhart: a mathematician’s lament”

  1. Ramanan Says:

    now, if only we can do something to set it on the right track…..


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