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Topic: The role of the polymath
Replies: 2   Last Post: May 8, 2000 11:35 AM

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Kirby Urner

Posts: 4,713
Registered: 12/6/04
The role of the polymath
Posted: May 11, 1999 12:32 AM
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Thanks to the web, anyone with a background in curriculum
writing has an opportunity to propose standards, ala the
goals of the NCTM.

Part of what frustrates the standards-setting process is
that specialization is the norm, and so creating curriculum
based on the premise of providing "overview" falls to an
overly bureaucratized committee structure -- because we
can't count on individuals in either university math or
philosophy departments to have an "overview" perspective
these days (their job is to specialize all the more).

Against this trend (towards specialization), we have the
tradition of the Renaissance thinker, ala Leonardo da Vinci
or Isaac Asimov, who achieves a degree of mastery in multiple
disciplines, and is therefore in position to write integrative
curriculum, wherein showing "connections" relies on more than
mere buzz words. Another word for such a thinker is "polymath".
What's needed, to offset bureaucratized "committee standards"
is for individual polymaths to use the web to promulgate
alternative standards.

Given any complicated subject (such as mathematics), there is
simply no "one right way" to criss-cross it. There's no reason
on earth to suppose that one set of standards has to do it all
for all people in all walks of life. That's why any culture worth
beans gives rise to multiple schools of thought, all competing
with one another for recruits (students, future faculty).

The Oregon Curriculum Network was set up in our Silicon Forest
context (our high tech sector has surpassed our wood products
sector as the number one employer in Oregon) to provide one more
alternative vision (one of many). I have been empowered to write
curriculum as an individual, not as a committee person, because my
trackers and backers respect my talents in this regard and count
on me to do a professional job (according to their own criteria).

So whereas I may come off as a "lone voice in the wilderness"
in comparison to the NCTM, this doesn't really detract from my
effectiveness. Given our new charter school legislation out
here, it's also possible for my sponsors to actually open a
school wherein my polymath curriculum gets more fully implemented
and field tested. The home schooler movement has also proved
a shot in the arm (useful ferment). Furthermore, I am free to
collaborate with NCTM, MAA and AMS affiliated professionals,
and do so -- the fact of multiple schools of thought does not
preclude the formation of alliances and affiliations.

I invite math teachers (either disaffected by the NCTM, or very
supportive of its process -- or neither) to visit my website(s)
and scan my pages for new ideas. A lot of what I'm brainstorming
with colleagues will come across as entirely alien, as some kind
of "math from Mars". That's OK. Takes all kinds, and competition
is healthy.

Kirby Urner
Curriculum writer
Oregon Curriculum Network (OCN)

NOTE: this is a repost of something I posted earlier (one typo
fixed) -- starting a new thread assures me of a static URL
for linking, whereas the earlier version had a variable n=##
parameter (a pain to keep changing).

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