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Step back and breathe
Posted:
Jul 17, 1995 8:51 AM


As a lurker (*) I'd like to suggest that some of the recent traffic on this listserve is getting to be too fast and furious. (I came in Monday morning to 100 mail messages, of which I think at least half were from this list).
First, there's clearly a lot of barely subdued flaming, including what seem to be bad word choices, snide comments, overlydefensive reactions, and so forth. I wonder if this escalation mirrors that in the famous mathematical paper on arms race escalation. (Sorry, no reference here, but I know it's in the World of Mathematics.)
I think some of the discussion has gotten off "the topic," but that doesn't concern me since it is interesting. As a parent, for example, I often wonder about how much subject expertise a teacher needs. Less, I believe, in the primary grades than in the secondary, but even so? Should a secondary teacher have a major in education or in the subject  math, history, whatever. Should a high school teacher be teaching to develop what Andrei called mathematical comprehension (or, as others call it, mathematical maturity), or is this something that comes after a student has a firm footing in the subject, and probably in sophomore year of college. I think it clear that a highschool teacher should have both education and math skills, but: Given a fair background in both, is there a minimum "effort" (measured in training courses or whatever else) that a teacher should put into each? Should a h.s. math teacher be capable of reading the Mathematical Intelligencer? The Monthly? Is it sufficient to keep up by simply reading popular books, at the level of the Martin Gardner classics ...
These and others that have been exposed in the current flurry of messages are certainly important. Although I doubt there are any answers, let alone easy ones, exposing the arguments has got to be important to those of you who teach or teach teachers. I wonder if it wouldn't be appropriate for a few of you to band together in small egroups and develop position papers of some kind that could then be published on this listserv (and possibly elsewhere!) I suspect that all of us would benefit from the presentation of more extended arguments than we see in the daily blowbyblow.
Dennis Geller
 (*) Former mathematician, working primarily in grapth theory and automata theory, and not particularly inspired (because even when I asked, as a grad student, I could never get anyone to pay any attention to [my] teaching skills!) Now, my interest in this list is as a parent and proponent of some school reforms, of which the standards and the IMP program seem to be avatars).



