Love should be the goal of education

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.

21st Biennial ACMS Conference: Call for Papers

The Twenty First Biennial ACMS conference will be held at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina May 31-June 3, 2017. The featured speakers are Sloan Despeaux, Dominic Klyve and Derek Schuurman. In the coming months, conference details will be posted at http://acmsonline.org/2017-acms-conference/

At this time proposals are being accepted for talks. The submitted proposals need to include the presenter’s name, presentation title, and an abstract of 250 words or less. Please provide your abstract in Word or TeX/LaTeX. Most presentations are expected to last 15 minutes plus a 5 minute transition time between speakers. A selection of the presentations will last for 25 minutes with a 5 minute transition. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for a longer presentation. There will also be a poster session, especially for students. You will be notified at a later date whether your submission has been selected for the conference.

ACMS is looking for presentations in the following general categories:

 Computer Science

 Computer Science Education

 Mathematics

 Mathematics Education

 Statistics

 Statistics Education

 Interaction of Faith and Discipline

Proposals should be sent to ddawson (at) csuniv.edu by February 15, 2017. Please put “ACMS proposal” in the subject line. Any proposal received after February 15 will be considered if space remains.

Refereed Proceedings:

Please note that this year’s ACMS Proceedings will be refereed. To allow authors time to incorporate audience feedback into their papers, all submissions to the Proceedings will be due September 15, 2017. Submissions for the Proceedings should be in TeX or LaTeX (this type setting software can be obtained for free). If you are not familiar with this software, Tom Price will be offering a workshop in using LaTeX as part of the pre-conference.

Mathematics for Human Flourishing

Why does the practice of mathematics often fall short of our ideals and hopes? How can the deeply human themes that drive us to do mathematics be channeled to build a more beautiful and just world in which all can truly flourish? – Dr. Francis Su

At the 2017 Joint Mathematics Meetings Dr. Francis Su, the outgoing president of the MAA, gave the retiring MAA presidential address titled “Mathematics for Human Flourishing.”

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Francis Su. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Elsewhere I have mentioned a previous talk by Francis Su on the “Lesson of Grace in Teaching.” In this most recent address, Dr. Su gives another amazing lecture on the nature and purpose of mathematics. Dr. Su is a great example of a Christian striving to better his discipline and to honor God by serving as an advocate in the public square.

Dr. Su begins by quoting the philosopher Simone Weil, “Every being cries out silently to be read differently.” What follows is an insightful commentary on the desires we all have as human beings and where those desires intersect with the discipline of mathematics. He ends by returning to reference Simone Weil.

She had found a path through struggle to virtue.
She understood that mathematics is for human flourishing.
The mathematical experience cannot be separated from love!
The love between friends who play with a mathematical problem.
The love between teacher and student working to help each other flourish.

The love of a community like the Mathematical Association of America working with each other towards a common goal: through the knowledge and virtues wrought by mathematics, to help everyone flourish.

Here is the full text of the talk: “Mathematics for Human Flourishing.”

Here is a great summary of the talk and a link to the MAA Facebook page where a video of the talk can be found.