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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Math Task Force: The Beginning

I am interested in mathematics for a number of reasons. One is that it is my discipline. Another might be that it's simply an inherently interesting subject, but then, given my previous statement, some might consider me biased. The reason that I am interested in mathematics as a subject at this point is that it is listed as a basic skill in my university's general education program and we are currently in the processes of developing a structure of assessment for it.

I speak with no fear of rebuttal when I say that mathematics is a very technical subject, but I will add to this that mathematics has its own beauty. Within its jungle of formulas and theorems, there are nuggets of beauty that await a prepared mind. I've seen them and I know. This sort of beauty is the stuff envisioned by those who have the vision of idealized, liberal-arts-type general education courses. My university doesn't currently offer such a course. Ought we? I don't know, and I don't know whether it's even something we should think about, but I will toss it to the family dog to see if he will chase it.

Beyond that sort of vision of general education math, there is also mathematics as a life skill. It is knowledge that people can actually use in daily life. Mathematics can help you live and it can help you to prosper.

But mathematics is classified as a basic skill in our general education program because it is foundational. There are disciples—the sciences, the social sciences, business, technology, and so forth—that use mathematics. Currently the general education offerings on our campus are structured in order to feed into these various disciplines.

We are currently in the process of putting together a Math Task Force which will explore how well these needs are being met. In the past, the Department of Mathematics has paid attention to these needs without the aid of any larger structure, i.e. it has been done informally which met the needs of the time. As the character of the university changes, regularizing these processes which were previously informal and opportunistic, will help aid the university in demonstrating our commitment to educating our students in this basic skill.

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