By: Jennifer Lezell
Rating 1-5: 3.5
Mathematician’s Lament is a very different book in some ways and a very similar book in others. One way it is different is the style of communication. The style of writing in this book goes from the thoughts of the author, Paul Lockhart, to dialogue between two people, Simplicio and Salviati, which contained the answers to the questions I was thinking while reading this book. This book is also different because it contains many different thoughts about mathematics that I have never thought about before, such as “7” is just a symbol, not a number but what the number does is what accurately tells us what “7” is. He also brings up the idea of how mathematics can be taught without majority of the definitions and symbols that are taught in schools. An example mentioned is the term quadrilateral; Paul Lock claims that students do not need to know the term quadrilateral, they only need to say four sided figure. On the other hand, this book is very similar to other readings.
I have had many different readings on the education system and one thing is for sure, no one is happy with the education system. Paul Lockhart explains what is wrong with the education system, from teaching style to curriculum. He throws good, real life problems, in the book to make it more interesting. He explains not only what would make the education system better but why it would make it better, which is a very common type of reading among the education readings.
Paul Lockhart did a good job communicating his thoughts and reasoning. He is very persuasive and easy to understand in this book. He makes the arguments valid by bringing problems into the text to explain his thinking. There are plenty of different ideas in this book about mathematics that will help keep the reader’s attention. When reading this book I felt passion, which is something not very common among books about mathematics. The style of writing made this book fun to read. There were so many different, off the wall, ways that he explained mathematics that I just had to keep reading to see where he was going with these crazy references and stories. Also, Paul Lockhart has such a different perspective on the way that mathematics should be taught.
Although this book brought up many good pointers and ideas, there are a few things that could have been done better. I felt as though this book, along with many other books, is too unrealistic. It even states that the types of changes that are suggested are impossible to do in the schools. After that, I felt as though I had wasted my time reading that because I can’t change it. Also, I feel as though this book was written by a mathematician only, not an educator. Paul Lockhart is correct on his idea of what an educator is, but the author is not realistic with how the educator should teach. The suggestions are very unrealistic when there is one teacher and thirty kids in a classroom with 45 minutes a day. I would say for the most part that his advice on what to change in the schools is very impractical. Many ideas had been repeated at least twice. Between discussing the classrooms and the curriculum, the same ideas were brought up about what is wrong and why it is wrong. Stating that mathematics is an art, after about the fifth time, became a boring idea to me because I knew what would be said next. There should have been real life examples or times when the author used this teaching method on students and some type of data or evidence to support the claims. There was no evidence or real life examples to show that the argument on how to fix the education system would work at all.
Contrary to Paul Lockhart, no matter what class students are in, vocabulary is an important concept and it helps when communicating to others. The idea that we do not need the definitions in the math classroom that we teach and use today would cause tremendous communication problems in the math world. Imagine if no one came up with the number system that we have today. The common understanding of the symbols of the number system makes it a lot easier to communicate with others what we are doing and saying. I also believe it helps advance the math world because without this common language of mathematics it would have made it very difficult for different mathematicians to communicate their ideas.
A mathematician’s Lament is an intriguing book with many of ideas, but I believe that reading a more practical book that can give ideas that are applicable would be more beneficial for the education world. This book is more beneficial for the gain of knowledge in the mathematics world than the education world.