“Poetry of the Universe”

Here are the letters to the NYT in response to the Garfunkel and Mumford piece (see my previous post).  Food for thought: “… to gear education toward any outcome is coercive and damaging. Instead, teachers should aim to give children all the tools they need to apply mathematics, and knowledge in general, in the way they choose.”  (Jess Coleman, New York.)

Jonathan David Farley, a computer scientist at the University of Maine, says “(y)ou do not study mathematics because it helps you build a bridge. You study mathematics because it is the poetry of the universe. Its beauty transcends mere things.”  The pure mathematician in me appreciates this sentiment, especially from a computer scientist.  But even if we were just training future workers, I’m reminded of something I learned from my short stint as a computer science instructor.  We were trying to introduce the principles of computer science, not simply the syntax of one language or another.  Had we only cared about the intricacies of BASIC (or True BASIC or whatever it was), our students’ knowledge would have been obsolete a decade later.  Of course we want to prepare our students for the real world, but we don’t know what that world will look like.  We need to give them a robust and adaptable grounding in mathematical habits of mind.

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About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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