Open Letter


      Dear Colleague:

      While I have written books on varied subjects, I regard myself first and foremost as a teacher. More particularly, as a teacher in an actual classroom, with students I come to know for their individual talents and traits. As I review my career, this has been –– and will always be –– my principal commitment. I hardly need to say that working with students give me immense please. At the same time, I believe that our calling is one of the most crucial any society has, up there with saving lives and preserving the rule of law. We are held responsible for the cerebral development of each coming generation. As I like to put it, our job is to turn a pliant physical organ into an informed and inquiring mind.

      True, I am a college teacher. Among other things, it means that my students are in my classes by choice, and I count that a great privilege. At the same time, I teach at a public city college, where most of these attending are the first in their families to go beyond high school. So the households where they are raised are less likely to encounter the interests and conversation that are more usual with professional parents. This means that one of my jobs –– as is yours –– is to introduce them to a world beyond their own homes. For a considerable number of years, I taught at an ivied institution. Infact, I prefer where I am now. Why? Because its challenges are a test of my abilities and engagement as a teacher.

      Which brings me to why i am writing this letter. Its title notwithstanding, The Mathe Myth is not primarily about mathematics. It is about what all of us seek to do: to bring out the best in all of our pupils. In my view, this nation is fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated teachers. One of the greatest disgraces of our time is the criticism and disrespect accorded to members of our profession. All the more, because it almost entirely emanates from adults who have never conducted a class, let alone have any understanding of how to engage the minds of eight-year-olds or incipient teeneagers. Just as insulting are those who do not trust teachers to plan their own lessons and evaluate their pupils' performance. Nor do you need reminding of moves to impose rigid templates on what we cover and conform instruction to distant testing.

      If you teach mathematics, I understand your commitment to the importance of your discipline, as essential for every educated person. Indeed, I would like everyone to understand why mathematics is an esteemed enterprise, one of the most honored pursuits of the human intellect. Sad to say, there is little such appreciation, even though millions of young people and adults have studied algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Among my proposals is that you allowed, if you are so inclined, to take off time from teaching mathematics, which is essentially how to do it, and instead create a class in which you can teach about mathematics. It could touch on its history, its philosophy, and its rols in the actual world, from ancient aqueducts to financial models.

      More to come.