Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mathematical Education

Yesterday I finished reading "The Poincare Conjecture" by Donald O'Shea. It was an enjoyable book with lots of interesting information. He comments near the close:
"It is up to all of us to ensure that the legacy of our times is a society that stewards and develops our common mathematical inheritance. For mathematics is one of the quintessentially human activities that makes us more fully human and, in so doing, leads us to transcend ourselves."

Earlier O'Shea had also referenced an essay by William Thurston titled "Mathematical Education" that I found great. The following comment regarding curriculum centered around standardized tests was especially entertaining.
"We don’t diagnose pneumonia with only a thermometer, and we don’t attempt to cure it by putting ice in a patient’s mouth. We should take a similarly enlightened attitude toward testing in mathematics education."

It makes me feel sad that there is not more general interest in mathematics, and that the concept of mathematics developed in many minds is a perceived equivalence with rote arithmetic. But to finish on a positive note, there is amazing math being done out there. And even for an amateur, there are an incredible number of avenues and groups to pursue this lovely, transcending activity.