Lockhart's Lament

School teacher and professional mathematician Paul Lockhart has written a brilliant denunciation of what is wrong with the teaching of mathematics in schools. Much of what he says applies equally well to other subjects, I expect. Certainly much of what passes for learning reading in schools takes something lively and beautiful and does its best to render it dull and lifeless, just like mathematics. And exposure to computing in secondary schools seems more likely to turn off and misdirect students then to prepare them to continue the subject in university.

I particularly enjoyed Lockhart's opening, an extended metaphor:

'A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made—all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

'Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.'

An important new book about how to think about mathematics is on amazon.com: "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".
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