Date: Nov 3, 2012 1:52 AM
Author: kirby urner
Subject: Re: Of Sequence and Success
On Fri, Nov 2, 2012 at 3:54 PM, Robert Hansen <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> On Nov 2, 2012, at 6:05 PM, kirby urner <email@example.com> wrote:
> To this day, there's a sense among mathematicians (many of them) that
> "arithmetic" as we call it is a vocational skill that, if not
> orthogonal to mathematics, is certainly not its essential core.
> No there isn't. Lou is the first I have met. Even Devlin is firmly in the
> times-tables camp. I so often must remind you about exaggeration.
> Bob Hansen
I have listened to Devlin in personal appearances, e.g. Oregon Math
Summit ** as well as on the radio.
His schtick when I saw him was "arithmetic" is basic numeracy like
knowing how to weigh, use a fork, blow your nose, tie your shoes.
All teachers in all subjects were equally responsible for imparting
these basics, he was saying, as that would free the math teachers to
teach what's really math, which isn't "the four operations".
He ridiculed traditional schooling in the "four operations" as
spending years making junior try to make himself a cheap imitation of
a cheap plastic calculator, and still not being able to perform as
These are necessary skills (add, divide, multiply, subtract), but so
is buying toilet paper (alluding to Paul's obsession with "money" over
"energy" when talking economics -- symptomatic of that discipline's
out-of-touchness with reality).
I'm surprised Lou is the first mathematician you've met with that
attitude. I assure you Devlin somewhat shares it. I do not
exaggerate. Plato shares it too.
It's somewhat endemic in the culture, I'm surprise you haven't noticed.
The comic book math mensch can visualize hyper-dimensional topologies
rotating with ease but can barely balance a check book, because mere
addition is boring/tedious/error-prone and he never bothered to get
good at it (too busy getting good at math).
Being good at arithmetic means you're a well oiled machine, like fast
with an abacus, maybe you have lots of mental tricks and can add the
grocery bill in your head. Good for you (applause!). But that's more
under the heading of "salon trick" or "impress your friends at
parties". Math means knowing lots of theorems and history and