Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall has Arrived, and with it... Reflections

Rituals. The word (and concept) used to remind me of obituaries. I saw them as an enemy to everything I held precious in life - spontaneity, creativity, unconventionality... the refreshing "teas" if you will. I think that was perhaps because that stage in my life was more one of collecting experiences whereas now my primary focus is more centered on sifting through my past experiences and assimilating them in a meaningful fashion. In short, I would now rather set up some cherished rituals rather than break them down as in the past, and one of those are our monthly Mennonite meetings that a group of four of us couples have arranged for this year. I specifically chose the word "ritual" here instead of "tradition" (although I'm warmer towards traditions these days also) because of its spiritual connotations. Spirituality has taken a different shape in my life than it used to and I'm still trying to understand what that entails, but fellowship is certainly in there somewhere.
Thad and Kristen Metzler-Wilson invited us out to their log cabin home in Nelsonville for the annual meeting and, when we arrived, we found Thad grinning (or was it straining?) as he put the final cranks into a tub of homemade ice cream. We were grinning too before long as we indulged in the ice cream ourselves... it was his grandmother's special recipe that used a hint of lemon in the vanilla to cut some of the sweetness.

Kyle and Suzie Yoder were there also and we found out that Suzie had just published a book with Mennonite Publishing House called Sensing Peace ( so we all congratulated her and interrogated her on the details (such as how hers had been chosen out of 100 submissions for an idea for a children's book).
Our discussions spanned a wide range of topics from living in a Trappist monastery to how to properly can fruits and meats. Speaking of foods, Joo is now three days away from her first day of class as a full-time culinary arts student (her class last Spring was just a part-time English class to get ready for the program). She's been vamping up the dinner presentations here at home as well...

Cammy Strickler came down to spend a day and a half with Joo and I this past week. We went through an intense 3-session crash course in math to get her ready for the GRE. One of her comments, combined with some recent readings in math, my summer research, and various other stimuli got me thinking a bit (overly?) teleologically about math education. She said, "I used to be an A student in high school math, but I'm so rusty on all this stuff now." Do you notice anything wrong with that comment? All that math we cram into high school minds assuring students that it will be useful later in life... Cammy IS later in life now and rarely (if ever) uses math beyond an elementary level. And I dare say she's not unique in that aspect. So what's the point of requiring the abstract math for students if they are unable to apply it to real life? (Actually, the higher level math that would arguably be the most useful in real life, probability and statistics, is often skipped over and rarely gets its own course in secondary school - a good 3 minute video on this at The other major argument, beyond eventual applications, is that math sharpens people's logic and reasoning skills for life in general. This may be somewhat true, although I would tend to think my personality is naturally more of an investigative/curious slant rather than something math has given me (although I will say the world of math is an incredible place for exploring those curiosities). But what is the point for the majority of the population?
Keep in mind, these questions are coming from someone who absolutely adores math. I'd take a nice challenging proof over watching TV any day of the week. I remember one time wishing I could be put in solitary confinement for a year and just work through math problems. And I do believe that math is in everything, even complex patterns like social relationships, but I'm not as sure that people use their math skills consciously in these areas. And some would argue that our way of teaching math conditions kids not to apply math to the real world. Another great TED talk on this and other intriguing stuff by progressive math teacher Dan Meyer can be found at: So perhaps students could be taught problem-solving or how to apply math in the real world, but that's a different story...
In any case, I think that allowing myself to sincerely question my faith was one of the best things I ever did as a youth pastor and so questioning the role of math education seems fitting at this point when I'm on the verge of committing my next several years (and maybe beyond) to the field. One of the best points of grad school is that it's a wonderful platform for trying to enact change in areas that don't seem to match up quite right.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts! Have you checked out Dan Meyer's blog at He has a lot of interesting ideas to ponder about math education beyond the TED talk.