The Regents Podcast: Francis Su on Mathematics for Human Flourishing

The Regents Podcast is aimed to think about and equip how we practice that which is true, good, and beautiful in a 21st century context. The podcast gives Regents School of Austin a format to share with our community and beyond the amazing stories happening on our campus, and help equip parents shepherding their children’s hearts.

I had the pleasure to host a recent episode with Francis Su as my guest. Francis has written a book on Mathematics for Human Flourishing in which he examines the virtues cultivated through the study of mathematics.

You can find out more about the book on Francis’s homepage.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Podcast summary:

Dr. Francis Su, the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and author of the book “Mathematics for Human Flourishing”, joins Dr. Josh Wilkerson to discuss how the study of mathematics, at all levels, is an important human pursuit.

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Cultivating Soulful Mathematicians

UPDATE (4/1/20): To ensure the health and safety of both attendees and speakers during the coronavirus pandemic the difficult decision has been made to cancel the Cultivating Soulful Mathematicians Conference for this summer. Be on the lookout for a rescheduled conference in the summer of 2021. 

It has been a while since I have posted here (and it seems like I start more and more posts with that caveat). In the past year I have been blessed with my dream job of overseeing the K-12 mathematics program at a Christian school. I have spent a lot of time on vertical alignment, evaluating our curriculum and proposing changes, teacher training, and running a social media public relations campaign to increase our parent community’s understanding of what we do in our math program. The work has been good and rewarding, but also time consuming.

Oh, and in my “spare time” I have been working with some amazing colleagues and brothers in Christ to launch a math conference. That is what I would like to share with you today.

The name of the conference is “Cultivating Soulful Mathematicians” and information along with registration details can be found here. Francis Su will be the keynote speaker and every conference participant will receive a copy of his forthcoming book Mathematics for Human Flourishing.

Where does the name of the conference come from?

Well, my colleagues and I had kicked around a few ideas including “math for human flourishing,” “cultivating mathematical affections” (if you’ve read anything on this site then you can guess who suggested this theme), and “math class as soul craft” (an homage to the book Shop Class as Soul Craft). These themes were close to what we were aiming for but none were perfect fits. Then I began reading the book Where Wisdom may be Found: the Eternal Purpose of Christian Higher Education. I have included this book on the “Resource” page and hope to post a review of it at some point (in my “spare time”).

I began reading this book because one chapter is entitled “The Joy of Mathematics.” While I thoroughly enjoyed that chapter it was actually another chapter that motivated this conference theme: “Becoming a Soulful Wordsmith.” Here is the apt excerpt:

Liberal arts learning has always emphasized the importance of discovering who we truly are, over and above acquiring practical skills that can be applied in a work context. Students who are dedicated to liberal arts learning, from a Christian perspective, will develop an enduring interest in their souls, especially as they are enlivened by the living Word Jesus. To be soulful, biblically speaking, is to be aware of, and participate in, the transforming work of redemption by the Lord who promises to bring life, and bring it “more abundantly” (John 10:10). This is the Christian version of seeking “the good life,” which is the prime directive of secular liberal arts.

This struck a chord with me as it seems to touch on all of the previous themes we had thrown out there but not been satisfied with.

  • “cultivating mathematical affections” – discovering who we truly are, over and above acquiring practical skills that can be applied in a work context
  • “math class as soul craft” – developing an enduring interest in their souls
  • “math for human flourishing” – the Christian version of seeking “the good life,” which is the prime directive of secular liberal arts

What do we hope to achieve at this conference?

From the conference description: Teaching and learning mathematics orients ourselves and our students in a posture of wonder and gratitude, with a desire to worship God and serve one another in community. Mathematics is the language through which we describe the natural world and give expression to our exploration of even the most abstract relationships between shapes and numbers. This is realized as teachers carefully attend to students through instructional practices and deliberate classroom liturgies that draw students into enduring understandings. In our time together, participants will assume the role of students as they exercise their mathematical imagination, experience collaborative problem solving that is both accessible and challenging, and communicate meaningful connections between multiple representations of ideas. Teachers will be led through the process of backward design, development of provocative anchor tasks, and composition of assessments that reflect the chief aim of cultivating mathematical affections.

I hope you’ll consider attending or at least spreading the word to others.