“Mathematics” vs Mathematics

Tuesday 23 January 2007 at 12:04 pm | In Articles | 2 Comments

A link in one of the comments at Mathematics dying on the vine in Australian universities drew my attention to a paper called “Mathematics” vs Mathematics by I. Bokor of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, University of New England, Armidale NSW. This paper attempts to dispel some myths such as:

    The view seems to be commonly held, even amongst mathematics and science educationists, that mere passing familiarity with rudimentary facts is more than adequate for teaching these subjects at school. School teachers, and even those who train them, frequently argue that it is actually preferable to know less about mathematics and science in order to teach them better.
    There is a confusion of numeracy with mathematics, a fallacy as crude as equating literacy with literature. For while one must be numerate in order to attempt to learn or appreciate mathematics, there is a qualitative difference between mathematics and mere computation, just as a narrative text does not become literature solely because it is free of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
    Partly as a consequence, there is a pervasive belief, including among those who use and apply mathematics, that any mathematical problem has a unique solution, which can be readily computed numerically if one just had the right computer with the right programme, or, failing that, by being adept enough.

If I had not experienced this myself I wouldn’t have believed that these myths are all too common these days. The author illustrates the difference between mathematics (the reality) and “mathematics” (the myth) by discussing the mathematics involved in answering a supposedly simple problem like 1, 2, 3, x, \dots \text{ Find }x..

A paper worth reading.


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  1. I would like to read the paper you quoted, “Mathematics” vs Mathematics, but the link goes to the Australia article.

    Comment by Denise — Wednesday 28 March 2007 2:27 pm #

  2. Yes, I only said there was link in one of the comments (by Sacha Blumen) on that page and put the wrong link to the paper. Corrected now and here is the direct link to the paper “Mathematics” vs Mathematics.

    Comment by steve — Wednesday 28 March 2007 2:46 pm #

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