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Education Bookcast

Sep 5, 2016

What do you think of mathematics? Is it:

  1. a sterile tool for accounting?
  2. boring, mindless, and annoying stuff your teacher makes you do?
  3. an anarchic, psychedelic adventure?

If you answered 1., mathematician and teacher Paul Lockhart vehemently disagrees with you. If you answered 2., then Lockhart understands your plight. If you answered 3., then you really know what maths is.

A Mathematician's Lament is a short book all about misconceptions, and how the system propagates them into an insurmountable monster hiding the true nature of a cherished art form. Kids in school hate maths lessons. Why? Because they're not really doing maths! They're engaging in a hollow imitation of it (if they're engaged at all), where memorising formulae takes the place of imagination and reasoning. 

He starts us off with a parable about a musician, and another about a painter. Imagine if everyone thought that music was those little marks made on the page of music books, or that painting a fence is the epitome of what it means to be a painter. This is the situation that mathematics finds itself in today. Very few people know about the true nature of doing mathematics, and there is no cultural corrective for the mistaken view propagated by the bulk of the education system. This is why Paul Lockhart laments.

This book was originally published in abbreviated form as an article of the same title, which is very close to my heart. I've read it about six times so far if not more, which is more times, I think, than I've read any other publication. I have a lot to say about it. I hope that it will reach a wide audience.

Enjoy the episode.