A Mathematician’s Lament

Lockhart, Paul.
A mathematician’s lament / 1st ed.
New York : Bellevue Literary Press, 2009.

As a mathematician I struggle with the role of mathematics in general education. There are such a variety of things that fall under the heading “mathematics” — numeracy, quantitative literacy, problem solving skills and abstract thinking, in addition to many, many specific mathematical topics that are prerequisites for various courses of study, and so on. Furthermore there is “mathematics as mathematicians experience it,” as an arena for play and exploration and discovery — mathematics as art. Lockhart brings both research and K-12 teaching experience to the table, and pulls no punches in his analysis. His views are controversial, but he does a great job of raising some of the most important issues about mathematics education today, and especially mathematics education for the “general audience” (as opposed to those who intend to specialize in math or math-heavy fields).

This book is an expansion of an essay of the same name (commonly referred to as “Lockhart’s Lament”), which can be viewed here: http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

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2 Responses to A Mathematician’s Lament

  1. Being in the computer field, and having also majored in math in my undergraduate, I can understand and appreciate this lament. I happen to love math, and I think that love came from early card game playing which involves pattern recogniztion and simple arithemetic tasks. Then following sports and the related statistics with percetanges, averages, etc.. Math wasnt forced on me , but rather was a useful tool to get to other goals.
    The author argues a similar point. Teaching math with direct exercises can be boring and deaden creativity. The instruction should be part of a quest for a greater goal, be it a game or creation.
    In general education, we use real life problems that are interesting (hence motivating the student) to do critical thinking and writing. The New Community College of CUNY is looking to implement this idea for a first year seminar course in a public arena problem like water quality. We may able to do similar things within our environment.

  2. We should keep in mind the role that the Brooklyn waterfront can have in our applications of general education skills–let’s talk more about this in our seminar.

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