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The Kline Identity "Morris Kline Society" initiatives:

a newsletter of the 1. campaign for a "Morris Kline Commemorative


2. re-release “Why Johnny Can’t Add” and “A Critique

of Undergraduate Education” (formerly known as
“Why the Professor Can’t Teach”);

3. keep a steady stream of “Morris Kline” material in the

forefront of American math education by way of the
monthly newsletter “The Kline Identity”;

4. create a discussion forum, discussing and debating the

philosophy, application, and pedagogy of math;

5. plan a May 8, 2008 celebration, the 100th anniversary

of the birth of Morris Kline, kicking off a series of
events, including a campaign to make available his
works on a wide basis.

In addition to the site, “The Kline

2007 Identity” newsletter will serve as means to communicate the
Volume 2 words of the great Morris Kline.
1 An Introduction There are no dues to be a member of the society.
2 A Critique of Undergraduate Education: Chapter 1
5 Why Johnny Can’t Add: Chapters 1-2
10 Visual-Logical Thoughts on “The Meaning of it All”
13 Quotes from Books and Interviews

Volume 3
A Critique of Undergraduate Education: Chapter 2
Why Johnny Can’t Add: Chapters 3-4
Visual-Logical Thoughts on “The Meaning of it All”
Quotes from Books and Interviews
A CRITIQUE OF UNDERGRADUATE teacher why anyone wanted to solve any quadratic equation.
EDUCATION The teacher's reply was a disdainful look that caused Peter to
shrink back. His question must have been a silly one.

Chapter 1 He remembered a similar experience in geometry. After a long

The Vicious Circle and apparently strenuous effort, the teacher proved that two
triangles are congruent if the sides of one are equal respectively
In a self-centered circle, he goes round and round, to the sides of the other. Then he turned to the class as if
That he is a wonder is true; expecting applause. Again Peter dared to speak up: “But isn’t
For who but an egotist ever could be that obvious? A triangle is a rigid figure. If you put three sticks
Circumference and center, too. together to form a triangle, you cannot change its size or
shape.” Peter had learned this at the age of five while playing
Sarah Fells with Erector sets. The teacher's contempt was obvious. “Who’s
talking about sticks? We are concerned with triangles.”

Peter Landers found himself caught in a vicious circle. He had Despite a few other disagreeable incidents Peter continued to
just secured a Ph.D. in mathematics from Prestigious like mathematics. He believed in his teachers. It was easy to
University and, having been well recommended, readily comply with their requests, and the certitude of the results gave
secured a faculty position at Admirable University. Thereupon him, as they had given others before him, immense satisfaction.
Peter faced the problem of teaching mathematics to prospective And so Peter moved on to college with the conviction that he
engineers, social scientists, physicists, elementary and liked mathematics and was going to major in it.
secondary school teachers, the general liberal arts students, and
those who, like himself, had chosen to become mathematicians. His first experiences were disturbing. After his program was
Peter was fully aware of these varied career interests, and he approved by an adviser who did not understand what an
also knew that students came to college with different drives Advanced Placement Examination Grade of 4.5 meant - the
and preparation. But he was confident that his education, adviser had thought that 10 was a perfect grade so that 4.5 was
typical for Ph.D.’s, had prepared him for the tasks ahead. a poor one - Peter was finally registered.

To put himself in the proper frame of mind he reviewed his He entered his first college classroom for a course which
own education. The elementary school courses had been happened to be English. To his surprise he found about five
acceptable. After all, one did have to know how much to pay hundred students already seated. The professor arrived,
for five candy bars if he knew the price of a single bar. True, delivered his lecture, and, obviously very busy, rushed out of
some operations were baffling. It had not been clear why the the room. Peter never found out what his name was, but
division of two fractions had to be performed by inverting the apparently names were not important, because the professor
denominator and multiplying - but the teacher seemed to know never bothered to ask any student his name either. Nor, Peter
what was correct. He had constantly referred to rules, thought, would the professor have noticed had a different group
principles, and laws. Rules, like rules of behavior, apparently of five hundred students appeared each time. Term papers were
applied to arithmetic, too. For all Peter had known, principles required, and these were graded by graduate students who
were laid down by the principals of the schools, and certainly insisted that “Who shall I call next?” was correct, though Peter
they were authorities. As for laws, everyone knew that there had been taught otherwise in high school. The size of the class
were city laws, state laws, federal laws, and even the laws of and the impersonal character of the instruction disturbed Peter
the Ten Commandments. Certainly laws must be obeyed. at first, but he soon realized that the requirements of the
Though under some tension as to whether he was violating English course could be met merely by listening. And so he
laws, Peter was young and resilient. In any case, what to do relaxed.
was clear and the answers were right.
Peter’s second class, one in social science, surprised him for
In his review of his high school education Peter did recall some different reasons. At the professor's desk was a young man not
doubts he had had about the value of what he was being taught. much older than Peter. As the instructor conducted the lesson
He hadn't understood why the teacher had to stress that the sum he was obviously nervous. Somehow the lessons throughout
of two whole numbers is a whole number, or why he had to the semester were confined almost entirely to the first part of
prove that there is one and only one midpoint on every line the text. And the instructor did not welcome questions.
segment; but evidently the teacher was trying to make sure that
no one could be mistaken on these elementary matters. After The third class - mathematics - was a shock. Peter entered the
all, teachers knew best what had to be done. room and found that it was a large auditorium. At the bottom of
the room, at the professor’s desk, was not a man but a box,
Peter also recalled one teacher's enthusiasm about the quadratic which proved to be a television set. Shortly after Peter’s
formula. “You see,” the teacher proclaimed triumphantly after entrance the box began to speak and the students took notes
he had derived the formula, “we can now solve any quadratic feverishly. From many seats one could not see clearly, if at all.
equation.” But Peter had been perverse and had asked the But by coming early one could get a good seat. And so Peter
managed to learn some of his college mathematics by listening
and looking at a TV program. But the world soon began to close in on Peter. As a novice he
was assigned to teach freshmen and sophomores. His first
Though it was not a requirement, Peter decided to take some course was for liberal arts students, that is, students who do not
physics. He had heard somewhere that mathematics was intend to use mathematics professionally but who take it either
applied to physics, and he thought he should find out what to meet a requirement for a degree or just to learn more about
these applications were. The physics professor constantly the subject. Recognizing that many of these students are weak
talked about infinitesimals and which infinitesimals could be in algebra, Peter thought he would review negative numbers.
neglected. The mathematics professors, however, had warned To make these numbers meaningful he reminded the students
that such concepts and procedures were loose and even that they are used to represent temperatures below zero; and to
incorrect. But Peter listened attentively. He was sure that even emphasize the physical significance of negative temperatures
though the mathematics and the physics professors apparently he pointed out that water freezes at 32° F, so that a negative
did not communicate with each other and so did not talk the temperature means a state far below freezing. Though the
same language, their methodologies could be reconciled. He example was pedagogically wise, Peter could see at once that
did seek counsel from his professors on this matter, but the students’ minds had also frozen, and the rest of his lesson
unfortunately they were not available. One was actually living could not penetrate the ice.
out of the city, in Washington, D.C.; another was always
involved in consultations outside the university; and a third had In a later lesson Peter tried another subject. As an algebraist by
office hours only on Sundays, from 6:00 to 8:00 A.M. preference he thought students would enjoy learning about a
novel algebra. There is an arithmetic that reduces all whole
In the junior and senior years the classes were smaller, and the numbers by the nearest multiple of twelve. To make his lesson
courses were usually taught by older faculty. Many blithely concrete Peter presented clock arithmetic as a practical
ignored the texts they had assigned and spent the period example: Clocks ignore multiples of twelve, so that four hours
transferring material from their notes to the board. The after ten o'clock is two o'clock. The mere mention of clocks
professors copied assiduously and the students did likewise. caused the students to look at their watches, and it was obvious
When the professors looked up from their notes they looked that they were counting the minutes until the end of the period.
into the blackboard as though the students were behind it.
And so Peter tried another novelty, the Kongsberg bridge
Nevertheless Peter persevered, received his bachelor's degree, problem. Some two hundred years ago the citizens of the
and proceeded to graduate school. His experiences there village of Kongsberg in East Prussia became intrigued with the
paralleled those of most other students. Professors were hard to problem of crossing seven nearby bridges in succession without
contact. The bulletin descriptions of the courses bore no redressing any. The problem attracted Leonard Euler, the
relation to what the professors taught. Each professor presented eighteenth century's greatest mathematician, and he soon
his own specialty as though nothing had been done or was showed by an ingenious trick that such a path was impossible.
being done by anyone else in the world. And so Peter learned The villagers, who did not know this, continued for years to
about categories, infinite Abelian groups, diffeomorphisms, amuse themselves by making one trip after another during their
noncommutative rings, and a variety of other specialties. walks on sunny afternoons - but when Peter presented the
problem in the artificial, gloomy light of the classroom, a chill
Prospective Ph.D.’s must write a doctoral thesis. Finding a descended on the class.
thesis adviser was like hunting for water in a desert. After
many trials, including writing theses on topics suggested by his Peter’s next class was a group of pre-engineering students.
professor that, it turned out, had been done elsewhere and even These students, he was sure, would appreciate mathematics,
published, Peter wrote a thesis on almost perfect numbers that and so he introduced the subject of Boolean algebra. This
completed his work for the degree. algebra, created by the mathematician and logician George
Boole, does have application to the design of electric circuits.
With the Ph.D. behind him, Peter presumed he was prepared The mention of electric circuits appeared to arouse some
for college teaching. Upon taking up his position at Admirable interest, and so Peter explained Boolean algebra. But then one
University he received from his department chairman the student asked Peter how one uses the algebra to design circuits.
syllabi for the several courses he was to teach and was told Unfortunately, Peter's training had been in pure mathematics
what texts he was to use for these courses. Cheerful, personable and he did not know how to answer the question. He was
Peter went about his assigned tasks with enthusiasm, He had compelled to admit this and detected obvious signs of
always liked mathematics and had no doubt that he could disappointment and hostility in the students. They evidently
convey his enthusiasm and understanding of the subject to his believed that they had been tricked. In his attempts to explain
students. He had been informed by the chairman that to secure and clarify other mathematical themes Peter also learned that
promotion and tenure he would be expected to do research. engineering students cared only about rules they could use for
This requirement in no way dimmed Peter’s spirit, because he building things. Mathematics proper was of no interest.
had been told repeatedly that mathematicians do research and
was confident that the training he had received had prepared Nor were the premedical students any more kindly disposed to
him for it. mathematics. Their attitude was that doctors do not use
mathematics but take it only because it is required for the Calculus for Social Scientists, and Applied Mathematics for
physics course, and even the physics seemed of dubious value. Engineers. He eagerly secured copies. But the texts proved to
The physical and social scientists had a similar attitude. be a crushing disappointment. Only the authors’ and
Mathematics was a tool. They were interested in the real world publishers’ names seemed to differentiate them. The contents
and in real people, and certainly mathematics was not part of were about the same, whether the authors in their prefaces or
that reality. the publishers in their advertising literature professed to
address liberal arts students, prospective engineers, students of
Peter was soon called upon to teach prospective elementary and business, or prospective teachers. Motivation and use of the
high school teachers. He did not expect much of the former. mathematics were entirely ignored. It was evident that these
These students were preparing to teach many different subjects authors had no idea of what anyone did with mathematics.
and so could not take a strong interest in mathematics.
However, high school teachers specialize in one area, and Peter Clearly a variety of new courses had to be fashioned and texts
certainly expected them to appreciate what he had to offer. But written that would present material appropriate for the
every time he introduced a new topic, the first question the respective audiences. The task was, of course, enormous, and it
students asked was, “Will we have to teach this?” Peter did not was certain that it could not be accomplished by one man over
know what the high schools were currently teaching or what a few years' time. Nevertheless Peter became enthusiastic about
they were likely to teach in any changes impending in the high the prospect of interesting investigations and writing that would
school curriculum. Hence, he honestly answered either 'No' or lure students into the study of mathematics and endear it to
“I don't know.” Upon hearing either response the prospective them. The spirit of the teacher arose and swelled within him.
teachers withdrew into their shells, or Peter's teachings were As these pleasant thoughts swirled through his mind, another,
reflected from impenetrable surfaces. dampening thought, like a dark cloud on the horizon, soon
entered. He was a recently appointed professor. Promotion and,
Peter's one hope for a response to his enthusiasm for teaching more important, tenure were yet to be secured. Without these
was the mathematics majors. Surely they would appreciate his efforts to improve teaching would be pointless - he would
what he had to offer. But even these students seemed to want to be unable to put the product of his work to use. But promotion
“get it over with.” If he presented a theorem and proof, they and tenure were obtained through research in some highly
noted them carefully and could repeat them on tests; however, advanced and recondite problems almost necessarily chosen in
any discussion of why the theorem was useful or why one the only field in which he had acquired some competence
method of proof was likely to be more successful or more through his doctoral work. Such research was no minor
desirable than another bored them. undertaking. It demanded full time and total effort.

A couple of years of desperate but fruitless efforts caused Peter Clearly, he must give the research precedence, and then
to sit back and think. He had projected himself and his own perhaps he could undertake the improvement of teaching. And
values and he had failed. He was not reaching his students. The so for practical reasons Peter decided to devote the next few
liberal arts students saw no value in mathematics. The years to research. But the struggle to publish and to remain in
mathematics majors pursued mathematics because, like Peter, the swim for promotion and salary increases caught Peter in a
they were pleased to get correct answers to problems. But there vortex of never-ending spirals of motion; and the closer he
was no genuine interest in the subject. Those students who came to the center the deeper he was sucked into research. In
would use mathematics in some profession or career insisted on the meantime Peter continued to teach in accordance with the
being shown immediately how the material could be useful to syllabi and texts handed down to him by his chairman. His few,
them. A mere assurance that they would need it did not suffice. necessarily limited efforts to stir up some activity among his
And so Peter began to wonder whether the subject matter older colleagues, who were in a better position to break from
prescribed in the syllabi was really suitable. Perhaps, the existing patterns, were futile because these professors had
unintentionally, he was wasting his students’ time. accepted the existing state of affairs and chose to shine in
research. Success there was more prestigious and more
Peter decided to investigate the value of the material he had lucrative.
been asked to teach. His first recourse was to check with his
colleagues, who had taught from five to twenty-five or more Ultimately, Peter, like other human beings, succumbed to the
years. But they knew no more than Peter about what physical lures that prominence in research held forth. As for the students
scientists, social scientists, engineers, and high school and —well, students came and went, and they soon became vague
elementary school teachers really ought to learn. Like himself, faces and unremembered names. Education might hope for an
they merely followed syllabi - and no one knew who had epiphany, but Peter was not ordained to be the god of
written the syllabi. educational reformation. By the time he had acquired tenure he
had joined the club. Like others before him he concentrated on
Peter's next recourse was to examine the textbooks in the field. research and the training of future researchers who would also
Surely professors in other institutions had overcome the be compelled to resort to perfunctory and ineffective teaching.
problems he faced. His first glance through Peter had taken his place in the vicious circle.
publishers'’catalogues cheered him. He saw titles such as
Mathematics for Liberal Arts, Mathematics for Biologists, The history of Peter Landers’ aborted teaching efforts, real
enough, seems exaggerated. One might conceive of its taking But because the associative law of addition holds,
place in nineteenth-century Germany or France. But the United
States is devoted to education. We were the first nation to 9 + (1 + 1) = (9 + 1) + 1.
espouse universal education and to foster the realization of the
potential of every youth. Our Founding Fathers, notably Now 9 + 1 is 10 by the definition of 10 and 10 + 1 is 11 by the
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, stressed the definition of 11.”
necessity of this policy, and it was adopted. Even today no
country matches the educational opportunities and facilities Evidently the class is not doing too well and so the teacher tries
that the United States provides for its youth. But the practices a simpler question. “Is 7 a number?” The students, taken aback
within educational institutions seem to be in marked variance by the simplicity of the question, hardly deem it necessary to
with the principles and policies of our country. answer; but the sheer habit of obedience causes them to reply
affirmatively. The teacher is aghast. “If I asked you who you
How has it come to pass that Peter and the many thousands of are, what would you say?”
his colleagues find themselves enslaved by research, while
education, the major goal of our vast educational system, is The students are now wary of replying, but one more
being sacrificed? Does the pressure to do research stem from courageous youngster does do so: “I am Robert Smith.”
the professors because they prefer the prestige and monetary
rewards? Or does it come from the university administrations? The teacher looks incredulous and says chidingly, “You mean
In either case, does not research make for better teaching? Or is that you are the name Robert Smith? Of course not. You are a
there a conflict between the two, and if there is, how can we person and your name is Robert Smith. Now let us get back to
resolve it? Since the crux of the problem lies with the my original question: Is 7 a number? 0f course not! It is the
universities – which train the teachers of all educational name of a number. 5 + 2, 6 + 1, and 8 - 1 are names for the
disciplines and at all levels – we must examine the policies and same number. The symbol 7 is a numeral for the number.”
practices of our higher educational institutions.
The teacher sees that the students do not appreciate the
distinction and so she tries another tack. “Is the number 3 half
of the number 8?” she asks. Then she answers her own
question: “Of course not! But the numeral 3 is half of the
WHY JOHNNY CAN’T ADD numeral 8, the right half.”

Chapter 1 The students are now bursting to ask, “What then is a number?”
A Taste of Modern Mathematics However, they are so discouraged by the wrong answers they
have given that they no longer have the heart to voice the
question. This is extremely fortunate for the teacher, because to
".. . Great God! I'd rather be explain what a number really is would be beyond her capacity
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; and certainly beyond the capacity of the students to understand
So might l, . . it. And so thereafter the students are careful to say that 7 is a
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn." numeral, not a number. Just what a number is they never find
William Wordsworth
The teacher is not fazed by the pupils’ poor answers. She asks,
Let us look into a modern mathematics classroom. The teacher “How can we express properly the whole numbers between 6
asks, “Why is 2 + 3 = 3 + 2?” and 9?”

Unhesitatingly the students reply, “Because both equal 5.” “Why,” one pupil answers, “just 7 and 8.”

“No,” reproves the teacher, “the correct answer is because the “No”, the teacher replies. “It is the set of numbers which is the
commutative law of addition holds.” Her next question is, intersection of the set of whole numbers larger than 6 and the
“Why is 9 + 2 = 11? set of whole numbers less than 9.”

Again the students respond at once: “9 and 1 are 10 and 1 more Thus are students taught the use of sets and, presumably,
is 11.” precision.

“Wrong,” the teacher exclaims. "The correct answer is that by A teacher thoroughly convinced of the vaunted value of precise
the definition of 2, language, and wishing to ask her students whether a number of
lollipops equals a number of girls, phrases the question thus:
9 + 2 = 9 + (1 + 1). “Find out if the set of lollipops is in one-to-one correspondence
with the set of girls.” Needless to say, she gets no answer from
the students.
in recent years by the spirit of reform, its basic features are
Bent but not broken, the teacher asks one more question: “How readily described. The first six grades of the elementary school
much is 2 divided by 4?” are devoted to arithmetic. In the seventh and eighth grades the
students take up a bit of algebra and simple facts of geometry
A bright student says unhesitatingly, “Minus 2.” such as formulas for area and volume of common figures. The
first year of high school is concerned with elementary algebra,
“How did you get that result?” asks the teacher. the second with deductive geometry, and the third with more
a1gebra (generally called intermediate a1gebra) and with
“Well,” says the student, “you have taught us that division is trigonometry. The fourth high school year usually covers solid
repeated subtraction. I subtracted 4 from 2 and got minus 2.” geometry and advanced algebra; however, there has not been as
much uniformity about fourth-year work as there has been for
It would seem that the poor children would deserve some the earlier years.
relaxation after school, but parents anxious to know what
progress their children are making a1so query them. One parent Several serious criticisms of this curriculum have been voiced
asked his eight-year-old child, “How much is 5 + 3?” The repeatedly. The first major criticism, which applies to algebra
answer he received was that 5 + 3 = 3 + 5 by the commutative in particular, is that it presents mechanical processes and
law. Flabbergasted, he re-phrased the question: “But how many therefore forces the student to rely upon memorization rather
apples are 5 apples and 3 apples?” than understanding.

The child didn't quite understand that “and” means plus and so The nature of such mechanical processes can readily be
he asked, “Do you mean 5 apples plus 3 apples?” illustrated. Let us consider an arithmetical example. To add the
fractions 5/4 and 2/3, that is, to ca1cu1ate
The parent hastened to say yes and waited expectantly.
5 2
“Oh,” said the child, “it doesn't matter whether you are talking +
4 3
about apples, pears or books; 5 + 3 = 3 + 5 in every case.”
students are told to find first the least common denominator,
Another father, concerned about how his young son was getting that is, the smallest number into which 4 and 3 divide evenly.
a1ong in arithmetic, asked him how he was faring. This number is 12. One then divides 4 into 12, obtains 3, and
mu1tiplies the numerator 5 of the first fraction by 3. Similarly
“Not so well,” the boy replied. “The teacher keeps talking one divides 3 into 12, obtains 4, and multiplies the numerator 2
about associative, commutative and distributive laws. I just add of the second fraction by 4. The result thus far is to convert the
and get the right answer, but she doesn’t like that.” above sum into the equal sum
These minor examples may illustrate, and perhaps caricature, 15 8
some features of the curriculum now called modern +
mathematics or the new mathematics. We shall examine the 12 12
major features in greater detail in due course and we sha1l
consider their merits and demerits. But first, we shall review One now sees easily that the sum is 23/12.
briefly the old mathematics to see what defects prompted the
development of a new curriculum. A good teacher would no doubt do his best to help students
grasp the rationale of this process, but on the whole the
traditiona1 curricu1um does not pay much attention to
understanding. It relies upon drill to get, students to do the
process readily.

After students learn to add numerical fractions they face a new

hurdle when asked in a1gebra to add fractions where letters are
involved. Though the same process is used to ca1cu1ate
Chapter 2
The Traditional Curriculum 3 2
x + a x− a
“I have found you an argument but I am not obliged to find you the individual steps are more complicated. Again the
an understanding.” curriculum relies upon drill to put the lesson across. The
students are asked to carry out the additions in numerous
Samuel Johnson exercises until they can perform them readily.
Though the traditional curriculum has been affected somewhat They are taught many dozens of such processes: factoring,
solving equations in one and two unknowns, the uses of evidence is needed, I have challenged hundreds of high school
exponents, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of and college teachers to give open book examinations. This
polynomials, and operations with negative numbers and suggestion shocks them. But if we are really teaching thinking
radicals such as 3 in each case they are asked to imitate what and not memorization, what could the students take from the
the teacher and the text show them how to do. Hence the books?
students are faced with a bewildering variety of processes
which they repeat by rote in order to master them. The learning The traditiona1 curriculum has also become too traditional.
is almost always sheer memorization. Some topics that received considerable emphasis for
generations have lost significance but are still retained. One
It is a1so true that the various processes are disconnected, at example is the solution of triangles in trigonometry. Here,
least as usually presented. They rarely have much to do with given some parts - sides and angles of a triangle, the theory
each other. While all these processes do contribute to the goal shows how to compute other parts and even how to use
of enabling the student to perform a1gebraic operations in logarithms in the calcu1ations. This topic, which had far more
advanced mathematics, as far as the students can see the topics relevance when trigonometry was taught primarily to
are unrelated. They are like pages torn from a hundred different prospective surveyors, should have been deemphasized long
books, no one of which conveys the life, meaning and spirit of ago. Another example is the computation of irrational roots of
mathematics. This presentation of algebra begins nowhere and polynomial equations. The method usually taught, called
ends nowhere. Horner's method, requires several weeks of class time and does
not warrant it.
After a year of such work in algebra the traditiona1 curriculum
shifts to Euclidean geometry. Here mathematics sudden1y There are also minor logical defects in the traditional
becomes deductive. That is, the text starts with definitions of curriculum. For example, students are taught that x 2 − 4 can
the geometrical figures and with axioms or basic assertions be factored into ( x + 2)( x − 2) , but that x 2 − 2 cannot be
which are presumably “obviously true” about the figures. They factored. However, the latter can be factored if we are willing
then prove theorems by applying deductive reasoning to the to introduce irrational numbers. In this event the factors are
axioms. The theorems follow each other in a logical sequence;
x − 2 and x + 2 . Likewise x 2 + 2 can be factored if we are
that is, the proofs of later theorems depend upon the
willing to use complex numbers. In this case the factors are
conclusions already established in the earlier theorems. The
sudden shift from mechanical algebra to deductive geometry x + 2i and x − 2i where i = −1 . Thus the error made in the
certainly bothers most students. They have not thus far in their traditional method of teaching is the failure to specify the class
mathematics education learned what “proof” is and must of numbers we are willing to consider in order to perform the
master this concept in addition to learning subject matter factoring.
Beyond the few defects we have already described, the
The concept of proof is fundamental in mathematics, and so in traditional curriculum suffers from the gravest defect that one
geometry the students have the opportunity to learn one of the can charge to any curriculum – lack of motivation.
great features of the subject. But since the final deductive proof Mathematics proper, to use the words of the famous twentieth-
of a theorem is usually the end result of a lot of guessing and century mathematician Hermann Weyl, has the inhuman
experimenting and often depends on an ingenious scheme quality of starlight, brilliant and sharp, but cold. It is also
which permits proving the theorem in the proper logical abstract. It dea1s with mental concepts, though some, such as
sequence, the proof is not necessarily a natural one, that is, one geometrical ones, can be visualized. On both accounts, the
which would suggest itself readily to the adolescent mind. coldness and the abstractness, very few students are attracted to
Moreover, the deductive argument gives no insight into the the subject.
difficulties that were overcome in the original creation of the
proof. Hence the student cannot see the rationale and he does Young people can no doubt see that there is some point to
the same thing in geometry that he does in algebra. He learning arithmetic but they can see little reason to study
memorizes the proof. algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Why shou1d they learn
the addition of algebraic fractions, the solution of equations,
Another problem troubles many students. Since algebra is also factoring and other topics? The appeal of geometry is not
part of mathematics, why is deductive proof required in greater. It is true that students can see what geometry is about
geometry but not in algebra? This problem becomes more and what the theorems assert; the figures make clear what this
pointed when students take intermediate algebra, usually after branch of mathematics dea1s with. But the question of why one
the geometry course, because there proof is again abandoned in should study this material is still not answered. One can readily
favor of techniques. understand what the history of China is about, but may still
question why he shou1d be obliged to learn it. Why is it
With or without proof, the traditional method of teaching important to know that the opposite angles of a parallelogram
results in far too much of only one kind of learning - are equal or that the altitudes of a triangle meet in a point?
memorization. The claim that such a presentation teaches
thinking is grossly exaggerated. By way of evidence, if Clearly one cannot defend algebra, geometry and trigonometry
on the ground that they will be of use later in life. The educated or in the law of sines. No amount of preaching or rhapsodizíng
layman does not have occasion to use this knowledge at any about the beauty of mathematics will make such ug1y
time unless he becomes a professional scientist, mathematician, ducklings appealing. Moreover, novitiates - are not likely to
or engineer. But this group cannot be more than a few per cent find beauty in a subject they are still striving to master, any
of the high school popu1ation. Moreover, even if all of the more than one who is learning French grammar can appreciate
students were to use some mathematics later in life this usage the beauty in French literature.
cannot be motivation. Young people cannot be asked to take
seriously material that they might need years later. This A few students are attracted to mathematics by the intellectual
motivation is often described as offering “pie in the sky.” challenge or because they like what they happen to do well.
The rare student who experiences this challenge may indeed be
As a matter of fact, in an effort to motivate the students, the intrigued - as some mathematicians are - by the fact that there
schools did try to teach some uses of arithmetic in the seventh are only five regular polyhedra. However, as far as most
and eighth grades. They taught simple and compound interest students are concerned, the world would be just as well off if
and discount on loans. But twelve- and thirteen-year-old there were an infinite number of them. As a matter of fact,
students did not take to such material and the experiment is there is an infinite number of regular polygons and no one
conceded to be a failure. The motivation must appeal to the seems depressed by this fact.
student at the time he takes the course.
There is indeed an intellectual value in mathematics. But there
Another motivation often dang1ed before students is that they is a question of whether young people can appreciate it just as
must study mathematics to get into college. If the mathematics there is about whether a six-year-old can appreciate Beethovens
they have been taught in elementary and high school is typical music. If the teacher proves a theorem of mathematics, the
of what lies ahead in college, they may not want to go to student will still be struggling to understand the theorem, its
college. proof and its meaning. While undergoing such struggles the
student is not likely to be impressed with the intellectual
The prospective mathematicians, scientists, and engineers will content and what the human mind has accomplished. In him the
find mathematics useful in their careers. But if the mathematics theorem and proof produce bewilderment and confusion.
presented gives no inkling of how it will be useful and if it is in
itself totally unattractive, telling the students that it is needed in Beyond the purported values of training the mind, beauty and
science and engineering will only encourage them to seek intellectual challenge, the defenders of the traditional
another career. curriculum point to the exercises. These, they say, show uses of
mathematics and should convince the student that the material
Much of the mathematics taught is often defended as “training is important. There are work problems such as the ditch-
the mind.” There may very well be some training, but the same digger’s dilemma. “One man can dig - a ditch in two days and
effect can be achieved with subject matter that is far more another in three days. How much time will be required if both
understandable and agreeable. One could teach the commonly men dig it together?” Such problems create pointless work.
used forms of reasoning by resorting to social or simple legal
problems whose relevance to life is far more apparent to the Then there are tank-filling problems for students who have no
students. One does not need mathematics to teach people that swimming pools to fill. Or the mixture problems: “How many
the statement “All good cars are expensive” is not the same quarts of milk with ten per cent cream and how many quarts of
statement as “All expensive cars are good.” Moreover, the use milk with five per cent cream must be mixed to make a
of social or legal problems does not require the mastery of hundred quarts of milk with fifty per cent cream?” Such
technical language, symbolism, and abstract concepts, which problems are useful to farmers who wish to fake the cream
tend to obscure the reasoning. Thus it is far more difficult for content of their milk. Other mixture problems concern mixing
the student to see that the statement “All parallelograms are brands of coffee or brands of tea to make undrinkable brews.
quadrilaterals” is not the same as “All quadrilaterals are
parallelograms.” In fact, experience in teaching shows that to There are age problems too: “Jane is twenty years older than
make the logical arguments used in mathematical reasoning Mary. In ten years time Jane will be twice as old. How old is
clear to the student, one must use non mathematical examples Mary?” This type of problem calls for finding out other
involving the same arguments. Moreover, there is some people’s ages, and many people are sensitive about their ages.
question about whether the training to think in one sphere
carries over to thinking in another. One may be inclined to There are also number problems, such as “One number is three
believe that it does, but one could not prove that this is so. times another number minus two. What are the numbers?”
(The numbers racket is actually illegal.) More realistic are
Another commonly advanced justification for teaching board problems. “A board seven feet long is to be cut into two
mathematics at the high school level is the beauty of the parts, one of which is to be two feet longer than the other. How
subject. But we know that the subjects taught have not been long are the parts?” Of course students are bored with board
selected because they are beautiful. They have been selected problems.
because they are necessary for further work in mathematics.
There is no beauty in adding fractions, in the quadratic formula, And we shouldn’t neglect to mention the time, rate and
distance problems, such as up- and down-river travel for allowing them to play the music. Students might be taught how
students who are going nowhere and whose desire to go to recognize full notes, half notes, sharps, flats, the key, and
anywhere has not been aroused. Some problems involve taking how to transpose music from one key to another without ever
walks around a circular garden and ask for the dimensions of hearing any music. But if they do not hear what these various
the garden. If we allowed the students to take walks around the notations and techniques mean, they will be left with
garden and provided each with a pleasant companion we meaningless and boring skills.
wou1d do the students more good.
The traditional curricu1um has been faithfully reproduced in
All these problems are hopelessly artificial and will not thousands of textbooks. The strongest reaction induced by the
convince anyone that algebra is usefu1. traditional texts is that they are insufferably dull. Most textbook
writers seem to believe that scientific writing must be cold,
Some authors of algebra texts do point to "truly physical" spiritless, mechanical and dry. These books have no authors.
problems. For example, Ohms law states that the voltage E They are not only printed by machines; they are written by
equals the current I times the resistance R. In symbols E = IR. machines.
Calculate E if I = 20 and R = 30.
Textbook writers also seem to take inordinate pride in brevity,
But the current involved in such problems doesn’t drive any which can often be interpreted as incomprehensibility. Reasons
mental motors. So far as the student is informed, Ohms law for steps are either not given or given so briefly as to make the
could be describing the number of marriages in Burma each presentation almost useless to the student. Many authors seem
year. to be saying, “I have learned this materia1 and now I defy you
to learn it.” Brevity in mathematical exposition is the soul of
For generations the calculus textbooks have asked students to witlessness and obscurity.
calculate centers of gravity and moments of inertia of bodies
without ever pointing out why these quantities are significant. The most disturbing fact about many traditional mathematics
Consequently, the gravity of these problems produces nothing texts is that they lack originality and repeat each other
but inertia in the students. Such physical problems, presented endlessly. A few thousand arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and
with no preliminary explanation of physical background or trigonometry texts have been published since 1900. Practically
physica1 significance, mean nothing to the student. Clearly, a all of the texts on any one of these subjects contain the same
physical application is worthless if the student cannot see what materia1 and presentation; only the order of the topics is
is accomplished. different.

Even the use of the word “application” is often bothersome. But there is hope for progress because each contains at least ten
Students are taught, say, a formula for area and are then asked topics, and the number of permutations of ten objects ten at a
to calculate areas with it. These calculations are supposed to be time is 3,628,800. It would be difficu1t to estimate how many
an application. This kind of application adds insult to injury. trigonometry texts have been written with the justification that
Since the so-called applications are still pointless and still part they treat the general angle before the acute angle. One can be
of mathematics proper, in what sense are they applications? sure, however, that just as many boast of treating the acute
angle before the general angle. The only thing that is acute
The fact is, then, that no motivation for the study of about these books is the pain they give the reader.
mathematics is offered in the traditiona1 curriculum. Students
take it because they are required to. Motivation means more Are there no variations among these books? There are
than a psychological stimulus. Genuine motivation also variations such as the elementary algebra and the advanced
supplies insight into the very meaning of the mathematics. A algebra, the elementary advanced algebra and the advanced
great deal of mathematics, particularly on the elementary level, elementary algebra, the half-course and the full course, the
was suggested directly by real situations and problems. The seven-eighths course, and so forth. Here, too, there is hope for
bare formula s = 16t 2 acquires meaning when one learns that it “progress” because there are irrational numbers; hence, we can
relates the distance fallen and time of travel of an object which look forward to irrational algebra courses.
is dropped. An ellipse becomes more than just another curve
when one learns that it is the path of a planet around the sun. What is especia1ly disturbing about these books is that many of
Moreover, the questions that are raised about the formula and the authors are consciously dishonest to their profession. I
about the curve become meaningful because they concern the asked one professor who had written “umpteen” trigonometries
physical situations. The physical meanings also supply, in of the full and partially full type why he included such useless
many cases at least, the power to think about the mathematical topics as the solution of oblique triangles by the law of tangents
problems that are raised, because the mathematics is no more and the law of half-ang1es. He admitted that these topics are
than a representation of the physics and a means of solving worthless, but said he included them because the books sell
physical and other problems. better. Apparent1y, no matter how many trigonometries a man
may write, not even one can reflect his honest judgment.
The failure to present the meaning of mathematics is analogous
to teaching students how to read musical notation without I asked another professor, who published a stereotyped college
a1gebra, why he bothered to write such repetitious nonsense.
Oh, he said, I can write the stuff between classes without GOOD INTENTIONS GONE BAD
having to think about it. Why shouldn’t I do it? Needless to The Philosophical Origins of “The New Math”
say, no thinking was evident in the presentation of the material.

Another professor published a book which included some Michael Round

material that he believed to be unimportant. He admits this in Center for autoSocratic Excellence
his preface and then says quite candidly that he included this
material with an eye to the market. Such honest dishonesty! The story of the rise and fall of the “new math” has been told
so many times, it’s tempting to think of it as a fad occurring
Those authors who repeat each others topics are in a sense nearly ½ century ago, with little to do with modern
plagiarizing. But the plagiarism extends beyond that. mathematics. Whether or not that’s true, we shall see, but to be
Paraphrases of whole sections of material covering many certain we’re reasonably thorough in our understanding of
paragraphs are readily found. One author took whole chapters history, let’s take a brief look.
from another book with on1y minor changes, acknowledging,
of course, the inspiration of God, Euclid, Newton, and Einstein. The New Math, implemented in the 1960s, had noble origins
and good intentions. The 19th and early-20th centuries had
Most traditiona1 mathematics textbooks appear to be seen the erosion of “certainty” from the once-solid foundations
commercial jobs that make a contribution only to the authors’ of math. Euclidean geometry, the calculus, and set theory were
pocketbooks. The ethics of some teachers, to say nothing of under assault at the ground level for inconsistencies,
their mentalities, is evidently in a sad state. The only persons contradictions, and non-intuitive results. As a result, a
who can claim any credit for original work in connection with paradigm shift in mathematics took place, the goal: shore up
these books are the publishers’ publicity men, who must think the foundations of math.
up good blurbs for the advertisements.
When the Soviet Sputnik created the USA mathematical /
Fairness requires that one mention recent improvements in the scientific panic igniting the New Math movement, the above
format of mathematics texts. Important formulas are now curriculum paradigm shift was put into action. The strategy
enclosed in red boxes. Other texts use overlays of plastic to and tactic? In order to achieve good mathematical results, we
show the increasing complexity of a figure as one overlay after must start our kids on the road to certainty at an early age.
another is superimposed on the origina1 text figure.
Of course, it did not take long to realize we were not achieving
Clearly the defects of the traditiona1 curriculum are numerous. that noble goal with that tactic, and it also did not take long to
The reliance upon memorization of processes and proofs, the realize why not! There was a crucial assumption that had not
disparate treatments of algebra and geometry, minor logical been considered: the pedagogy is sound.
defects, the retention of a few outmoded topics, and the
absence of any motivation or appeal explain why young people We will achieve
good mathematical
do not like the subject and therefore do not do well in it. Their results.
dislike is intensified and their difficulties in understanding are
compounded by being asked to read dull, poorly written, and
commercially contrived textbooks.
Sound principles
The pedagogy is
Certainly reform was called for. The leaders of the new at an early age is
mathematics movement did not cite all of the above defects.
However, they did point the finger at some of them. So let us
look now at what these people proposed to do and try to
evaluate their effectiveness in improving the teaching of
We quickly realized the flaw in the “new-math”
implementation plan: our kids were not ready for the material.
It was no surprise. It had taken thousands of years to reveal the
inconsistencies, contradictions, and non-intuitive results in
math, we sought to restructure the math, and we did not give a
moment’s thought to whether this was good – for kids? We
From Mark Alder: “I am very grateful for the kind knew, having practiced it in academia for ½ century it was
permission of Professor Kline's widow, Mrs. Helen good for adults, and assumed what’s good for adults is also
M. Kline, to use this material on this section of my good for children. This was the underlying assumption in
website.” judging the pedagogy of the New Math.

Copyright © Helen M. Kline & Mark Alder 2000 This part of the story is well-known.

A less pursued angle of this tragic story is the following Our math is not as
question: “The Sputnik incidence launched the ‘new math’ rigorous as
principles. Why were these the new principles that were believed.

As the great mathematician Morris Kline has so well pointed Euclidean

There are other
out, math through the ages had been considered the apex of geometry is the
geometries equally
logical thought and consistency. As in many sciences, when apex of
issues arose challenging the status quo, the issues are dealt with
on an ad hoc basis, and the underlying philosophy left

However, as Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of

Scientific Revolutions, infrequently an anomaly arises THE ORIGINS OF “SOUND PRINCIPLES”
challenging the philosophical status quo, and cannot be The Calculus Anomaly
explained away.
Of course, one issue does not destroy a movement, and such is
the case with geometry. In the 17 th century, the formulation of
the calculus – by Newton and Leibniz – gave rise to a new
THE ORIGINS OF “SOUND PRINCIPLES” method of the analysis of nature. How did this method move
The Geometric Anomaly forward? The controversy really is as old as the study of math,
and can be traced, analogically, to the well-known paradoxes of
Such was the case with Euclidean Geometry. In the creation of Zeno.
the systematic understanding of geometry, Euclid had sought to
start with sound principles – postulates – and reason If I say it’s impossible to fill a cup with water, intuition tells us
deductively. These postulates were as follows: that’s nonsense, and, placing the cup under the faucet, the
claim is quickly disproved, as the water reaches the top of the
1. A straight line may be drawn between any two points; cup, eventually pouring over.
2. A piece of straight line may be extended indefinitely;
3. A circle may be drawn with any given radius and an However, if I point out to you in order to fill the whole cup,
arbitrary center; you must first fill ½ the cup. Obviously. However, once ½ the
4. All right angles are equal; cup is filled, the cup must again fill the remaining ½ cup ½ the
5. If a straight line crossing two straight lines makes the way. Continuing the process, we see there is an infinite
interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, progression of “one-halves”, getting ever-and-ever closer to a
the two straight lines, if extended indefinitely, meet on that full cup, but not quite getting to the rim of the cup.
side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.

This fifth postulate, the so-called “parallel postulate”, so 100% 100%

Total Amount Poured
differed from the others in clarity, mathematicians throughout 80% 80%
Amount Poured

the ages sought to prove the theorems of geometry without 60% 60%
reference to it. This postulate equated to saying the sum of the 40% 40%
degrees in a triangle equal 180 degrees. 20% 20%

0% 0%
We now know there are other geometries where this 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
assumption IS NOT valid – these “non-Euclidean geometries” Pouring Trial
were as consistent as Euclidean geometry.

What has this to do with the calculus? The notion of the

calculus rests on the concept of change over time. We’re
accustomed to averages such as miles / hour, the common
metric being a certain distance traveled over a certain period of
The troubling aspect of this discovery, of course, was the
time. Of course, with stoplights, and reststops, the average
revolution it sparked. After all, it was believed, Euclidean
time does not necessarily refer to the average speed at a
Geometry was believed to be the apex of consistency in a
particular point, but generally over the entire trip.
discipline itself at the apex of consistency – and now, to realize
the foundations were in fact not as solid as believed?
What happens if we want to know what the speed is at a Even
particular point in time? It would seem we would be dividing Integers Numbers
1 → 2
by zero time, because there seems to be no change.
2 → 4
3 → 6
However, certain mathematical manipulations by both Newton 4 → 8
and Leibniz gave rise to right answers, despite the
awkwardness of the “divide by zero” issue.

As with the issue in Euclidean Geometry, this “lack of rigor” There IS a 1-1 correspondence, and therefore, by the definition
troubled the math profession, and consequent issues regarding of set theory, the two sets are equal! Yet this seems
this issue of limits and infinity tore away at the fabric of inconsistent with our everyday reasoning. What’s going on
certainty once covering the profession. here?
Our math is not as
Our math is not as rigorous as
rigorous as believed.

Set theory affords
The calculus between practice
Inconsisties and a rigorous new
and expectation
allows for the look at math.
"divide by zero" arise.
mathematics of
issues exist.

It’s hard to imagine what this set of crises did to the
The Set Theory Anomaly
mathematicians in that age. A once-certain profession, faced
with major attacks on the foundations of their subject, had to
In the 19th century, the notion of dealing with mathematics by
rethink what exactly was going on. What would you do if
way of “sets” was seen as a possible method of dealing with the
faced with such a crisis of confidence?
inconsistencies plaguing the once certain profession of
mathematics. Set theory is the mathematical theory of sets, in geometry in calculus in set theory
which represent collections of abstract objects. It encompasses
the everyday notions, introduced in primary school, of There are other Inconsistencies
between practice
geometries equally and "divide by
collections of objects, and the elements of, and membership in, consistent. zero" issues exist.
and expectation
such collections. In most modern mathematical formalisms, set arise.
theory provides the language in which mathematical objects are
Our terms and
In this regard, the simple notion of “counting” took on a new
processes lack
look. If one wanted to know if there were enough chairs for rigor.
participants in a conference, for example, one could align each
person with a chair to answer the question. Is there a 1-1 core problem

correspondence between “participants” and “chairs”? If so, the

“sets” are equal.

Intuitively, this notion of “equality” is consistent with our

ordinary experience. But what is the problem? The lack of logical consistency. It
makes sense, then, to shore up the foundations of the branches
However, let’s extend this idea of “correspondence” and of math via rigorous methods to ensure the result is logical
“equality” a step further. Are there as many even numbers as consistency.
there are integers? Of course, the answer is no. But is it?
Using our previous definition of “equality”, we see the But what constitutes rigor in this regard?
We have a
We have a
Our terms and From the Quote Department
rigorous definition processes are
of terms
rigorous process
of logic.
independent of Quotes from Books and Interviews
(numbers, etc.) application.

Fodder for the Ass

We rigorously “Of course the reader who has examined the theorems of
define our Euclidean geometry may wonder why anyone bothers to prove
some of them … For example, the Epicureans, a school of
solution Greek philosophers, picked on Euclid’s theorem that the sum of
two sides off a triangle is greater than the third side. Said the
Epicureans, “Any ass knows this theorem. If fodder is placed
at one point and the ass is at another, the ass does not traverse
two sides of a triangle to reach the fodder but goes directly to
A PARADIGM SHIFT IN EDUCATION Mathematics and the Physical World
Is it any wonder there was a concerted effort to change math as
it was once conceived? With the erosion of certainty and the
emergence of logical contradictions, it’s natural to rethink – Mistaking Architecture for Education
rigorously – what exactly the science is. If numbers lie at the “Gauss himself wrote elegant, but highly compact, carefully
core of the profession, for example, and the results of the 19 th polished steps. When criticized, he said that no architect leaves
century application of math yields inconsistencies, it makes the scaffolding after completing the building. But the fact is
perfect sense to rethink what exactly a number is. that even excellent mathematicians found the reading of
Gauss’s papers very difficult and the same is true of the
If logical inconsistency lies at the heart of the problem, it writings of many other mathematicians.
makes sense to rededicate oneself to understanding what Mathematics and the Physical World
exactly constitutes logical reasoning. Moreover, can a system
of logic be developed and applied at the core of the “new math”
to ensure logical consistency is achieved? Educational Habitation
“If we are to think correctly in the calculus and avoid serious
Finally, the fear in any industry is though something may work errors when the algebraic expressions that represent k/h are not
in one circumstance, it may fail in another. This belief held as so simple as in (an early equation), we must understand and
well for mathematicians at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries. respect the distinction between the limit of a function of h as h
How does one ensure logical consistency is maintained in all gets smaller and smaller and the value of the function when h is
contexts? We make our mathematical systems independent of 0. The limit concept is of course a complex and subtle one, and
all objects – and simultaneously applicable to all objects! the way to get to know such an idea is like the way in which
one gets to know a person: one must live with it.
How was this rigor actually applied? Mathematics and the Physical World

Truth tables Venn Diagrams

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
“Mathematics may be the queen of the sciences and therefore
entitled to royal prerogatives, but the queen who loses touch
with her subjects may lose support and even be deprived of her
realm. Mathematicians may like to rise into the clouds of
abstract thought, but they should, and indeed they must, return
to earth for nourishing food or else die of mental starvation.”
Mathematics and the Physical World

More to come!