A Review of Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart
Paul Lockhart makes many interesting points in his book Mathematician’s Lament. He argues that mathematics education in schools today is far from where it should be. The author thinks that mathematics is an art, cheapened and stripped down to formulas and definitions. Although I think reform is needed in mathematics classrooms today, Lockhart’s idea of reform is not practical.
Lockhart’s main theme of the book is that mathematics is an art form and should be treated as such. Just as art is taught with a blank canvas, students should be given a blank canvas to explore mathematics as they please. Although I agree that mathematics is so much more than procedure and “plug and chug” formulas, can anyone really expect a middle schooler to work on mathematics for an hour every day given no guidance or instruction? There has to be some structure in a mathematics classroom especially for younger students.
The author makes it clear that we stress notation too much in our classrooms. What I don’t understand is how he expects students to create and explore mathematics with no base to start from. You have to crawl before you can walk and you have to be able to add numbers before you can create mathematics.
In “Mathematician’s Lament” the author states that there should be no mathematics curriculum, no standardized test, and no regulation of mathematics teachers cross country because teachers are being too bogged down by scores to actually teach mathematics. There are several alarming implications to this. First, if there were no regulations then teacher performance would probably decline because there is no way to keep them accountable. Second, there is a sad truth that many teachers do not have enough mathematical understanding to guide students through any and every mathematics the students will explore. Teachers teach procedures mostly because they were taught procedures. There are ways to encourage teachers to branch out, but taking away all standards and expectations is not one of them. Finally, students who can achieve high level mathematics will never be taught the mathematical background needed to succeed.
Lockhart writes that mathematics is a fun art form that has only a few real life applications. This point breaks my heart, because I believe mathematics is fun, but I also believe that mathematics is important. He makes it seem like the only purpose of mathematics fun, making it essentially unimportant to teach in schools. In his argument to reform, he goes so far as to make mathematics a trivial subject. This seems far from accurate. Where would our world be without mathematics? Computers, medicine, science, technology, business and more wouldn’t even exist without mathematics. So yes, Lockhart, mathematics is fun, but it is also vital to the world we live in.