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Topic: "The Classroom Encounter" (Reuben Hersh)
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Carol Fry Bohlin

Posts: 89
Registered: 12/3/04
"The Classroom Encounter" (Reuben Hersh)
Posted: Jun 17, 1999 4:41 PM
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Colleagues: Reuben Hersh, author of What is Mathematics, Really? and (with
Philip Davis) The Mathematical Experience, shared the article below with me
last month. Yesterday, I asked that Jimmy Kilpatrick post it on his site
(, and he was kind enough to do so (he would be
interested in posting any articles that you might send him as well).
Hersh's full paper is available at

The Classroom Encounter
by Reuben Hersh

As every newspaper reader knows, many people are trying to reform math
education. The NSF, NCTM, MAA, and AMS are helping. Meetings are held.
Grants are awarded. Textbooks are written and rewritten. "Technology" (use
of calculators and computers) is introduced and expanded.

Has this activity made significant improvement?

"Too soon to tell."

When will be the right time to tell?

What's missing?

I hope this work succeeds, but I'm not optimistic. Why not? Because the
reforms concentrate on curriculum and teaching strategy. The encounter
between teacher and student is underestimated.

In the AMS Notices (1) Hyman Bass wrote: "Mathematical scientists typically
address educational issues exclusively in terms of subject matter content
and technical skill, with the `solution' taking the form of new curriculum
materials. Curriculum is, indeed, a crucial aspect of the problem and one
to which mathematically trained professionals have a great deal of value to
offer. But, taken alone, it can and often does ignore issues of cognition
and learning."

Of course the classroom is a place where information is transferred, but
before that, it's a place where humans encounter each other--student with
student, teacher with student. The successful teacher relishes that human
encounter. He/she knows that teaching isn't just copying information from
one abstract intelligence to another. "Covering the material" doesn't
necessarily mean teaching the students. In fact, research and experience
have found that a key ingredient in successful teaching is the relationship
between teacher and students--sometimes called the "affective" aspect.
Of course lectures should be correct, comprehensible, and interesting. But
it also matters whether the student sees the teacher caring about her/him,
as a human being. Human feelings and needs affect academic performance.

(continued at )

Carol Fry Bohlin
California State University, Fresno

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