Referring to Jerry Becker's story (from the Guardian, which itself got the interview with Maryam Mirzakhani from the Clay Mathematics Institute): > ************************************ > From The Guardian, Tuesday, August 12, 2014. See > http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/13/intervi > ew-maryam-mirzakhani-fields-medal-winner-mathematician > ************************************ > A fascinating story indeed, which tells us quite a bit of how the 'right familial guidance and attitudes shown' (by parents and siblings) may have helped develop in Dr Mirzakhani *exactly* the right mental attitudes she needed, in order to take those crucial initial steps that would lead to a glittering career in math and now to a Fields Award.
There are undoubtedly plenty of 'hints' in that story that could help parents and teachers (and perhaps even the 'math educational systems') guide the 'mathy' students about whom Robert Hansen often writes.
There are at least two issues to consider here: +++++ i) First and always foremost, how to ensure that the great 'non-mathy majority' does not come out of school with the 'fear and/or loathing' for math that's all too common?
ii) How best to guide the students who are truly gifted in math, the 'mathy'? From what I remember having seen at or read about a few such ventures, I don't believe they've 'got it' yet, (they are not even anywhere near it). [This is just my opinion, which Robert Hansen will doubtless label as "not even an opinion"]. +++++
Are there any hints in there for the 'non-mathy majority' in the student population? Well, for one thing we should be very clear that it is entirely unlikely that the *average* student will ever develop the kind of passion that evidently took possession of young Maryam Mirzakhani quite early. (I'm not supporting the connotations of the adjective 'average'; however, like the noun 'stakeholders', it's probably the word that's available and usable at the moment).
However, there sure are quite a few hints in the interview that would help us perceive how we may at least avoid leaving students, at the end of their school career, with the 'fear and/or loathing' of math that is all too common, alas. Do we know how to take such 'hints', do something effective with them? I don't believe so, to judge from the mess in math education thus far seen (in the USA; in the UK; in India). [I wouldn't know how other countries have handled the issue].
Clearly, our 'math educational systems' as a whole do NOT have the right answers - either in the systems available for the 'non-mathy majority' or for the 'mathy minority'. We should certainly do all we possibly can to develop both such 'sub-systems' within the 'educational system' - and we should definitely find out how to develop effective 'education systems' in all fields and disciplines where they're needed. We're currently not doing that effectively at all.