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A Mathematician’s Lament

May 16, 2011

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school. …

A Mathematician’s Lament – Paul Lockhart

There are few times that I have picked up a piece of writing and have been unable to put it down. This was the case today when I started reading, A Mathematicians Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form by Paul Lockhart. I was captivated after reading the first two paragraphs as noted above. Perhaps it was the quality of the writing, perhaps it was the ability to relate the arguments from a personal and professional perspective or perhaps it was that the way it challenged my thinking.

In the treatise Lockhart laments about the current state of mathematics. He touches on a wide range of topics including:

  • the art of mathematics
  • good problems versus practice
  • the role of teachers
  • pedagogy and
  • curriculum redesign.

I must admit that I am still processing the contents of this publication. While there are some aspects that I find I am in agreement with there are other aspects that I am somewhat skeptical of.

I would challenge all teachers of mathematics to read the paper and challenge their thinking. If, like me, you would like to continue the discussion please let me know. I would love to meet with other to discuss the ideas presented through Elluminate or other means.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2011 9:51 am

    I think a book study around this piece would be a fantastic idea, coupled with a discussion via Elluminate with the people who have read it. What do you think? Perhaps we could organize it through the Future of Math wiki? See for the wiki itself. I’ll propose it as a topic to Maria.

  2. May 17, 2011 9:59 am

    I would love to do that David. I was tempted to write a lot more on my blog post but the book has left me with a lot of thoughts that I need to discuss. I find I learn best with groups where I can challenge ideas and hear other perspectives. Let me know how you make out with the proposal as I am willing to facilitate but I would rather be an active participant.

  3. Joanne Crooks permalink
    May 17, 2011 4:54 pm

    I also read the book this weekend and was surprised when I had to keep reading! I would love to be a member of the discussion group. Count me in!

    • May 17, 2011 5:06 pm

      Thanks Joanne.

      It really is a book that needs to be discussed and not just read. I have been at a meeting of a mathematics post-secondary articulation committee ( and I think this is a topic that needs to be expanded beyond K-12 (as noted in the book). Indeed I am almost left with the feeling that many of the educators I rub shoulders with in K-12 are more progressive than those in post-secondary. I hope that we can get some post-secondary representatives in on the chat.

      Every journey starts with a single step!

  4. May 19, 2011 10:54 am

    Just had a great chat with @davidwees and it is looking good for getting an on-line book study together. Break out your copy and read. Lots to think about if you are interested in attending. Dates and times will be announced.


  1. Mathematician’s Lament Part Deux « Richard V. DeMerchant's Blog

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