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Topic: Fw: precise use of language
Replies: 11   Last Post: Jun 4, 2000 3:31 AM

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Jerry Uhl

Posts: 1,267
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: Fw: precise use of language
Posted: May 26, 2000 2:57 PM
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No flame intended.
My point is that when math researchers talk about math, they do not
use the stilted language commonly found in textbooks. Instead they
use the vernacular. I think textbooks should be written in the
vernacular so that students can begin communicating in language they
understand rather than language they don't understand.

At 11:29 PM -0500 5/25/00, 112358etc wrote:
>Without trying to provoke a flame war with Jerry, I would like to point
>out that the answer to the lack of fundamental learning skills, be they
>algebraic, logical or grammatical, is not to design a curriculum that
>does not require such skills, it's to redesign the education curriculum
>so that future teachers are required to actually understand algebra,
>logic and grammar, and can pass those skills along to their students.
>Otherwise, we end up with coloring books, "Dick and Jane" novels, and
>blackbox tools for mathematics and science. (And yes, I suspect that
>I can tell you how each and every component in every mechanical and
>electronic device I own works at a fundamental level. And I probably have
>a good idea about much of my software, too.)
>It would not be original on my part to point out that complicated sentences
>and a broad vocabulary allow us to communicate subtleties of thought and
>emotion. In fact, George Orwell made that point in his novel "1984", where
>he described a society trained to speak only in a primer style language
>called "Double Speak" precisely so that society would be handicapped in
>any efforts to express discontent.
>Certainly, we could eschew complicated sentences and all of the linguistic
>density that are commonly used in mathematics. Can you imagine students
>being any more eager to read a thousand page math book that followed this
>tack rather than a three hundred page math book that did not? Or any more
>enthusiastic to watch a DVD video that used a thousand simple words every
>time three hundred more thoughtfully chosen and organized ones would suffice?
>Even if one were to only teach mathematical topics that could be introduced
>in the service of some real world application, always supported with exciting
>graphics and demonstrations, at some point, students would have to deal with
>sophisticated ideas in sophisticated language. Short of using mathematica as
>a black-box or showing videos of what could just as easily be
>physically inaccurate
>movie special effects, just how does one talk about phonons and
>lattice vibrations,
>a bose-einstein condensate, or the structure of the set of optimal
>solutions to an
>airline scheduling problem? Draw a picture? Do we go back to
>saying and writing
>"The product of three with the number that when ten is raised gives
>the answer to
>the division problem of the distance around a round race track to
>the distance across
>the middle of the race track," or do we need a video to convey this
>concept, or do
>we accept the denser 19th century language and notation of "3 log(pi)" ? I am
>certainly not advocating a return to a curriculum taught in Latin,
>but the notion that
>we should never expect our students to rise from whatever level of
>they find most comfortable, no matter how inchoate, is to me of
>complete abandon-
>ment of all that resembles a liberal education.
>Jeff Stuart
>Department of Mathematics
>University of Southern Mississippi
>Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5045
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Jerry Uhl <juhl@NCSA.UIUC.EDU>
>To: 112358etc <>; Ted Stanford <>
>Cc: <>
>Date: Thursday, May 25, 2000 1:25 PM
>Subject: Re: precise use of language
>On the same theme, Ralph Boas wrote in 1980:
>"Authors of textbooks need to remember that they are supposed to be
>addressing students, not the teachers...
>Contemporary prose style is simpler and more direct than the style of
>the 19th century- except in textbooks of mathematics. ....I blame the
>authors of textbooks for not realizing that contemporary students
>speak a different language."
>-Jerry Uhl
>Jerry Uhl
>Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
>Member, Mathematical Sciences Education Board of National Research
>Calculus&Mathematica, Vector Calculus&Mathematica,
>DiffEq&Mathematica, Matrices,Geometry&Mathematica, NetMath
> To UNSUBSCRIBE from the calc-reform mailing list,
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Jerry Uhl
Professor of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Member, Mathematical Sciences Education Board of National Research
Calculus&Mathematica, Vector Calculus&Mathematica,
DiffEq&Mathematica, Matrices,Geometry&Mathematica, NetMath ,, and

"Is it life, I ask, is it even prudence,
To bore thyself and bore the students?"

. . . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



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