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Topic: Math for math's sake
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Michael j. South

Posts: 61
Registered: 12/6/04
Math for math's sake
Posted: Dec 5, 1995 12:19 PM
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At 3:57 PM 12/4/95, Sam Evers wrote:

> Finally, so what if they never need it. Show it to them anyway - they
> can go home and confuse their parents with their new knowledge. Those
> who know me know one of my favorite phrases: "Math for math's sake!"
> Do it just for the fun of it.

This is reminiscent of Conway's comment--something like "teach them not to
ask how it applies in the real world"--and bears some examination, I think.
Some people mentioned that complex numbers are behind the beauty of the
Mandelbrot and Julia sets. Of course, you don't have to know that to
appreciate their beauty or explore them, but I find that knowing a little
more about things like that tends to make their beauty (and my appreciation
of it) more intense. In much the same way, simply knowing a few
constellations adds a lot to the pleasure of looking at the night sky, and
every incremetal bit of knowledge (that some particular star has a radius
the same size as our orbit around the sun, or where scientists think a
black hole might be located, or which direction the center of the Milky Way
is) adds that much more.

To me, opening people's worlds to this kind of enjoyment and wonder is the
biggest (or at least one of the biggest) motivation for teaching math to
everyone. My experience has been that people that hate math (or at least
hate the math they have seen) and don't do it well still make it all right.
But they miss out on a lot of the wonder in the world by not knowing
math's beauty. I often think that we would do well to show kids more of
things like graph theory, abstract algebra, etc. while they are still
curious and eager to learn rather than killing all of that with addition
drills and long division. (Naturally, that statement should be qualified,
but I do think there is a lot of truth in it).



Michael South
Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.
628 Gary St
Durham, NC 27703
(919) 688-2176 (voice)
(919) 688-2697 (fax)

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