Practicing Precision: Lessons from Mathematical Language and Writing
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We teachers of mathematics have our work cut out for us today. In this present world of casual attitudes and selfgratification, precision and pride in one’s work have notably vanished. The media, prices of consumer goods, and the unemployment rate all urge our young people to live for today and stop working toward or planning for the future. Presenting mathematics as a solid foundation for is, therefore, an unimpressive argument. To permit our students to fail continuously under these circumstances is to neglect terribly the development of their minds We must begin employing new tactics in teaching mathematics to begin to make the subject matter meaningful and intrinsically valuable in our students’ eyes. Part of this fresh approach may involve devaluation of strictly practical applications such as those found in “consumer” math courses. We must begin to stress competency, precision and pride in one’s own capabilities. Students from innercity schools are often youngsters already burdened with a complex array of medical, social, and emotional problems, as well as learning disabilities. Therefore, they are often not motivated to try a subject which will need considerable effort to master. Additionally, many of these students are used to failing and will withdraw from a situation where they will risk repeating the failure experience. Since they can no longer see any future for themselves, they will usually choose experiences which offer immediate gratification and will cooperate only in those plans which offer short term goals. I feel that teaching mathematics under these circumstances is going to require incredibly secure planning and presentation on the part of the teacher. In essence, we have to teach an affection for a rather pretty but demanding branch of knowledge to students who often feel burned out, have experienced very little affection themselves, and who are not easily turned on by the beauty of the mind.