Sunday, March 13, 2011

Math Liberation

Dateline: Wolframia

Math Liberation: What does that mean?

Conrad Wolfram, co-founder of Wolfram|Alpha, a really useful and fun math tool, makes a quick analysis of how, and perhaps why we're teaching math all wrong, at least within formal schools. Bad mathematicians and fuzzy thinking have largely taken math pedagogy hostage, but won't even declare what they want as ransom. Pedagogy. It's not pederasty, it's not pedophilia, but for most people, it might as well be. We've become that phobic about math.

Pedagogy just means our theories about how we think learning happens, and how we design schools to impose those largely untested prejudices on the process and on our children, shuffling deck chairs every few years, but never getting to the point of finding the liferafts, or fixing the holes in the ship's hull.

We need to be encouraging and creating settings where kids can learn to feel the math and love the math, not fear it. To make students masters of numerical methods, number theory, puzzles, logic and all the parts of math that we excel at, that were the reason some of us build computers in the first place, rather than convince most of the population that they are slaves of computation, with some vague notion that by demonstrating their subjection beneath math, they will respect and revere it, rather than see it as the monstrous enemy that they should push over a cliff at the next opportunity.

We've made our tools into our prison guards. I found the video on Eugenia's blog, by the way.

How much is our failure locked into the bias to serving the market? Computers are pushed on us to a degree that is almost absurd, and yet we tend to be corralled into some strange alternate reality, where the computer's actual usefulness to us if often masked and distorted.

This has been long delayed. I was trying to marry some of my thinking about the impending Dark Ages here, and the potential that might still exist for a revitalized Second (or Third?) radical Enlightenment. That's what I'd been reading for awhile now, but I'm getting increasingly distracted as I try to reinvent some way to support myself, while also watching Rome burn. (And I swear, it wasn't my match... this has been running on inertia since before I was born, I think.

Related readings below, but first let me ask, why did I hide the most valuable link in this article in the slugline at the start?

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