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A Mathematician’s Lament Essay

1999 words - 8 pages

A Mathematician’s Lament, by Paul Lockhart, is a mind revolving eye-opening piece on Lockhart’s extreme, yet makes logic, views on the mathematics education and curriculum in our educational system. An essay full of remarkable and strangely empowering critique about our mathematic education succeeds at motivating any future teachers to strive to make our math education curriculum better. This article critiques how we view mathematics as a culture, how teachers are “teaching” it (or not teaching it), why students are struggling and rejecting it, how parents in this society perceive it, and how testing students does not provide sufficient evidence that learning has taken place. This piece by ...view middle of the document...

This is what he believes our contemporary math education consists of. Yet, as Lockhart mentions, we all know something is not functionally right, and while politicians and our schools provide “reasons,” perhaps the ones who need to be heard are out students. Only they reflect how detrimental and unbeneficial most of our approaches in mathematics in our curriculum are.
Lockhart feels we need to understand that mathematics is an art, not a "tool for science and technology" and that there is "nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics. It is every bit as mind-lowing as cosmology or physics (mathematicians conceived of black holes long before astronomers actually found any), and allows more freedom of expression than poetry, art, or music." He argues how, sadly, our culture fails to recognize it as that. Our society does not acknowledge the creativity and the imagination that is involved in mathematics, mostly because many of us lack a true understanding of what mathematics really is. Most of us believe mathematics to be something related to with big complicated number and long formulas, and that somehow it is related in with science and computers. It is in fact that, but not entirely. Mathematics comes from creativity, from imagination, and from thinking about the simplest possible thing.
Lockhart explains how and what mathematics is by setting an example of imagining a triangle inside a box. He continues by explaining how through wondering, playing around, and imagination (because in mathematics “things are what you want them to be. You have endless choices; there is no reality to get in your way.”)one can discover mathematics. Lockhart mentions that the core problem is our systematized mathematics curriculum, in which prepackaged facts are presented to our student in an arbitrary order, instead of allowing them to experience the joy of investigating interesting phenomena through the application of inspiration, experienced trial & error, which is what real mathematics is all about. Creating something out of nothing is the true art that takes place in mathematics.
Instead of exposing our students to simple and natural questions about shapes (in this case), we deprive of them of the rewarding process of experience and discovery by feeding them formula after formula. We demand students to memorize formulas and then apply them to questions that are not asking them to truly think and explore. In consequences, the thrill and joy of creating is unfortunately gone. Lockhart is not completely against formulas and memorizing interesting facts if it is used in context- “to create richer, more nuanced works of art.” However, he is against the act of discovery, that lead to other ideas and breakthrough because mathematics lies not in the facts or theorems that students memorize, but in the arguments that show why these facts must be true. By stripping away the magnificence and elegance that lies...

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