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Lockhart’s Lament

I thought I posted this a while back, but apparently I didn’t. This is perhaps the single best essay that I have ever read. The link above takes you to an MAA page with an intro by Keith Devlin, a link to the essay is near the bottom of the page.


Check it out here.

I compiled this post from sources I found online, along with some of my own thoughts. Being the poor grad student that I am, I failed to site my sources; so I can’t take full credit for writing this.

Why study mathematics?

Mathematics is more than just the science of numbers taught by teachers in schools and either enjoyed or feared by many students. It plays a significant role in the lives of individuals and the world of society as a whole. Mathematics is an essential discipline recognized worldwide, and it needs to be augmented in education to equip students with skills necessary for achieving higher education, career aspirations, and for attaining personal fulfillment. Its significance to education is not limited to the following aspects.

Enhances problem solving and analysis skills. Mathematics enhances our logical, functional and aesthetic skills. Problems enable us to apply our skills to both familiar and unfamiliar situations, thereby giving us the ability to use tested theory and also create our own before applying them. By developing problem solving strategies, we learn to understand problems, devise plans, carry out plans, analyze and review the accuracy of our solutions. The methods involved in problem solving develop use of reasoning, careful and reasonable argument, and decision making.

Applied in daily life. Mathematics is not a mere subject that prepares students for higher academic at- tainment or job qualification in the future. It is not all about practicing calculations in algebra, statistics and algorithms that, after all, computers are capable of doing. It is more about how it compels the human brain to formulate problems, theories and methods of solutions. It prepares us to face a variety of simple to multifaceted challenges every human being encounters on a daily basis. Irrespective of your status in life and however basic your skills are, you apply mathematics. Daily activities including the mundane things you do are reliant on how to count, add or multiply. You encounter numbers every day in memorizing phone numbers, buying groceries, cooking food, balancing a budget, paying bills, estimating gasoline consumption, measuring distance and managing your time. In the fields of business and economy, including the diverse industries existing around you, basic to complex math applications are crucial.

Base for all technologies. Anywhere in the world, mathematics is employed as a key instrument in a diversity of fields such as medicine, engineering, natural science, social science, physical science, tech science, business and commerce, etc. Application of mathematical knowledge in every field of study and industry produces new discoveries and advancement of new disciplines. All innovations introduced worldwide, every product of technology that man gets pleasure from is a byproduct of Science and Math. The ease and convenience people enjoy today from the discoveries of computers, automobiles, aircraft, household and personal gadgets would never have happened if it were not for this essential tool used in technology.

Career aspirations. Every branch of Mathematics has distinct applications in different types of careers. The skills enhanced from practicing math such as analyzing patterns, logical thinking, problem solving and the ability to see relationships can help you prepare for your chosen career and enable you to compete for interesting and high-paying jobs against people around the globe. Even if you do not take up math-intensive courses, you have the edge to compete against other job applicants if you have a strong mathematical background, as industries are constantly evolving together with fast-paced technology.

Since mathematics encompasses all aspects of human life, it is unquestionably important in education to help students and all people from all walks of life perform daily tasks efficiently and become productive, well-informed, functional, independent individuals and members of a society where Math is a fundamental component.

Update. November 18. This is a revision of the original post. There is still no conclusion and I don’t know where to put the last paragraph.

This is a very rough draft of my personal statement. I am applying to PhD programs in math education. The one below is for a math ed program at Berkeley. There is no conclusion, I need to add that. Also, it is a bit too long right now. I need to trim some stuff out.

Any and all comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. Thanks in advance to anyone who has any advice, I really appreciate it!

There are two main reasons why I want to pursue a PhD in math education. First, I want to be involved in decision-making concerning equality, reform, and curriculum development for high school math education. Second, I want to better understand issues in undergraduate mathematics education. My experiences as a student and teacher have allowed me to realize these goals and have prepared me for studying math education at the PhD level.

My first experience in math education came as an undergraduate; I worked at UC Irvine’s Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) where I assisted in math instruction at Spurgeon Middle School in Santa Ana, California. The goal of CFEP is to increase postsecondary opportunities for California’s educationally disadvantaged students. I participated in CFEP’s Saturday Academy in Mathematics (SAM), an academic enrichment program. The SAM curriculum, written by CFEP and the Irvine Mathematics Project, is interactive instead of lecture based and encourages students to think and work together. Rather than simply teaching math, I want to be a part of designing and implementing new math curricula since I have seen the positive impact it can have on students.

My work as an undergraduate inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in math. As a part of the masters program at Cal Poly, I have the opportunity to teach my own math class. This past year, I have been teaching pre-calculus at Cal Poly. Teaching my own class has allowed me to reach a broader audience of students at a more advanced level. On the other hand, it has also revealed to me certain weaknesses in math education. Many of the students I teach lack the motivation and interest to learn the material. This apathy in many undergraduate math courses concerns me and I want to understand both the cause, and how to better combat it. Moreover, I am interested in the transition from learning high school math to learning college math.

The masters program at Cal Poly has been a good stepping-stone in preparing me for the challenges of a PhD. I know what it takes to succeed in a graduate program. Over the past year, I have learned how to balance teaching, studying, research, and classes. In my first year, I successfully studied for, and passed, a qualifying exam in real analysis. In addition, I have been conducting research with Dr. Vincent Bonini studying the classification of minimal surfaces. As a result of my research, I have authored a brief survey on minimal surfaces, appearing in this year’s edition of the Polymath Newsletter, and I had the privilege of lecturing at the Cal Poly Differential Geometry Seminar. On top of my teaching, exams, and research I have been able to thrive in my classes by maintaining a 3.74 GPA. The masters program has allowed me to hone my studying and researching skills necessary to excel in the PhD program.

Being a senior graduate student this year, I had the opportunity to mentor new TA’s in the Cal Poly Math Department TA mentoring program. I helped new TA’s in developing their syllabi and shared my teaching experiences.

continues to go up. The Cal States are now using the word “tuition” instead of “fees”. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s still money you have to pay regardless. Moreover, The UC is proposing an 8% fee increase for next year. I realize that the state budget is in the toilet right now, but there’s got to be a better solution than cutting education. Perhaps I’ll start a petition called “the fees are too damn high”. Check out the LA Times articles:

Cal State to call student fees the T-word

UC board to weigh more fee increases

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Deer Park Monastery, do it. It’s a very wonderful place. Their college retreat is this weekend. Here’s a synopsis.

Meditation & Education – Fall 2010

A bi-annual retreat for university educators and college students at all levels who are interested in meditation and its correlation to our life at school, in our family, and in our minds.

I couldn’t put it any better. This is what I love about math education and why it is so important. You can check out his blog here.