by Jacob Mohler
The following post comes from Jacob Mohler, Math department co-chair at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. From Jacob’s bio on the Westminster website:
I became a math teacher because I wanted students to learn math in a better environment than I did. A teacher who was trained to teach English taught me math. There are wonderful notions in math of how numbers found in the natural world point to a Creator. For this reason, as I noticed how God has left clues for us to see His handiwork, I wanted to find ways to show students similar things. Thinking about math as the language and logic God used to create the world was too good a secret for me to keep. Now I want students to think about their involvement in the mathematical enterprise as a means to join God as co-creators of interesting things.
Mathematics allows humans to make the “invisible” part of the created world become “visible” in a way to tame it, describe it, use it, wonder about it, write about it, have control over aspects of it. These ways of making the “invisible world become more visible” suggest a knowable and dependable world that is worth knowing and caring for to enhance the human experience. Furthermore, from the perspective of a Christian in the stream of the Reformation tradition, one might say that humans’ ability to know the world in these ways is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” and living out our Imago Dei as creators, nay, co creators, as we do not Create from nothing as God did.
Humans endeavoring to learn math from our forerunners is necessary to continue the timeless knowledge of our past, but we must not think that simple memory of facts and procedures will guarantee that we will learn what is needed to be faithful messengers to the next generation or that we can rightly use the past understanding of mathematics to “better the affairs of mankind” or as Sir Francis Bacon so aptly put it, “relief of man’s estate.” Learning mathematics should be seen as a work in progress as a training and maturing and not as mechanical or a behavioral modification that tests learning by simple reciting of known and recognized nomenclature, although memorizing of agreed upon facts might be the minimum we ask of students, we need to stress that knowing the world of math is not the same as duplicating what a teacher shows.
The important facet of thinking about mathematics as a training and maturing is that each student’s background of mathematics, abilities, ways of thinking and even difficulties with learning ALL influence how teachers decide to design class lessons and assessments. Routine and simple problems are set in front of students as well as non routine and challenging ones. Whether in a public, private, parochial or protestant christian school the teaching and learning of mathematics may look similar because knowledge of math is similar to knowing God’s world in general terms. This is often referred to as general revelation. All humans have access to this form of knowing about the world.
The depth of knowing about the world is not the same for each person, partly because of interest in knowing, time committed to learning and personal abilities differ. Here is where notions of giftedness bumps up against various ways we as humans interact with the various aspects of enjoying the world. Some people are more athletic than others, for example, and some will be better surfers than others. This reality should not affect the the idea that humans were meant in the Imago Dei and can interact and know the world in small, large, and enjoyable ways. Just because I will never be an ukulele player invited to in Carnegie Hall does not mean that I should not work to improve my skills to bring enjoyment to me and others in my spheres of influence. In a similar way, learning subjects beyond personal giftedness or interest should be encouraged because learning broadly betters each person’s ability to interact in the natural world by enjoying it and the more people know the more they have ability to love more broadly.
Love should be the goal for education.