Vlorbik's Diner

son of owen's cooking show

Open Letter At Random

Posted by vlorbik on August 9, 2009

*reasoning* is the “still, small voice”
spoken of in the scriptures:
mathematics is the true faith.

everybody hears it and even
sometimes listens carefully
and takes heed.

the *faithful* work to improve
their ability to *distinguish*
this “voice” from all other voices;
the result is called
“having a math brain”.

now, faith comes to those who pray for it.
(how odd of god to choose the jews?
not news, not odd: the jews chose god.)

so *anybody* can have a math brain
that *wants* it.

thus, the kaplans’s “myth of talent”

but the trick is to want it.
that’s why the kids say
“when will i *use* this?”.

the answer is (of course!)
“whenever you want to”.

now, “show ’em how to care”
was one of my mantras
of my recent “go ahead
and try to do it right”
experiment when i just
threw myself into being
the best teacher i could
find a way to be with
the tools at hand and
to hell with everything else.

(i believe this is what
got me fired or encouraged
to quit or whatever it was.)

*show* ’em… not *tell* ’em.
because finally at long last
*telling* anybody to change
their attitudes looks to me
like either a fool’s errand
or outright coercion.

professors of mathematics
are routinely accused
(as a class) of not
“knowing how to teach”;
for me this comes down
to “not knowing how to teach
anything but what they
actually know”; we generally
stay away from trying to
*sell* our subject because
we know that such efforts
are *doomed to fail*
in the nature of the case.

because selling is dishonest.
and our *product* is honesty.
refined and polished.

now, “no yin without a yang”
isn’t the very symbol of
mystical truth (in some circles)
for nothing. it sure strikes me
smack in the face whenever
i try to think about… well,
pretty much anything that matters
outside of mathematics
(where, at last, we can get away
with pretending that there are
rules without exceptions and so on;
having removed actual reality
from the discourse allows this).

in particular, *all* teachers–
even mathematicians!–will do
a certain amount of selling
(likewise, even the most coercive
methods still count as “instruction”–
this is why giving somebod
a good beating is called
“teaching them a lesson”).

what management wants– and has been
amazingly good at getting–is teachers
who will willingly teach *any*thing
by *any* method… on this model,
the more useless and uninteresting
the tasks the student performs,
the better the “teaching” will have
had to be for it to happen.

this is why consultants make the big bucks.
everybody already knows what they’re
going to say before the presentation:
“if you could only talk nonsense
as well as *i* do, you *too*
could make the big bucks”.
now, of course you can only get people
to sit still for a line of crap like this
by paying them; that’s why these are
“mandatory” meetings. trouble is,
they work…

and it’s not so much that i refuse
in principle to be this kind of teacher;
i’d take a job as a vivisectionist
if i had a credible offer.
i just don’t think i can *do* it.
the only way i know how to work a crowd
is to give ’em the real me
and i’m not even very good at that.
turns out those gurus don’t make
the big bucks for exactly *nothing*…

3 Responses to “Open Letter At Random”

  1. vlorbik said


    kate nowak begins circling.

  2. […] Open Letter At Random e-mail reprint08/20/09 nobody writes to the kernel ramble of ex-math-teacher08/20/09 this will all […]

  3. […] 08/09/09 Open Letter At Random e-mail reprint 08/20/09 nobody writes to the kernel ramble of ex-math-teacher 08/20/09 this will […]

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