Saturday, September 7, 2013

Math Enlightenment...

This morning, Steven Strogatz tweeted the following:

"Huh? Marilyn vos Savant, of Monty Hall problem fame, bashes math … Say it ain't so!"

which struck me as a little odd, since I'd read the same piece and thought it a fairly innocent (even if simplistic) commentary on math's place within most people's fields of study. She was responding to someone's sincere question as to why they (like a lot of people) suffer from so much math anxiety. And in fact I find Marilyn's suggestion that we start math education earlier and stop it earlier (except for those who will go on to use it professionally), interesting.
But some other Twitter responders were critical of her take, the most button-pushing lines possibly coming when she wrote: "Math doesn’t enlighten us the way literature, social studies, or art appreciation do. Instead, it’s an extremely valuable tool that many of us simply don’t need to use much." This is unfortunately ambiguous, since some may be reading it to mean that 'math doesn't enlighten us, while other fields do,' when I think she more likely simply meant that math often doesn't enlighten people in the same manner that some other areas do (certainly math enlightens most people at some level, at some time; physics also doesn't enlighten people in the same way, say that music does -- there are different forms of 'enlightenment').

Anyway, probably the more important take-away notion from the piece is her belief that math phobia is not an inherent trait suffered by some individuals so much as a by-product of the educational system… and that should be fixable. She wasn't so much 'bashing' math as bashing the pedagogical system that renders math to very young minds (...and these days who doesn't bash that system!).

But enough verbiage, read the piece yourself (it's not long), if you haven't already, and see what you think...

-- ADDENDUM: It occurs to me this might be a good place to bring in two links I'd saved but not yet used here, for Keith Devlin's ( new "Wuzzit Trouble" game:

and a review from "The Aperiodical":

Dr. Devlin, through InnerTube Games, has been arduously working on the conviction that young minds can learn mathematical concepts and thinking through games… essentially learning math without even realizing you're learning (or being taught) math.

I suspect Marilyn would approve….


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