Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh Lebanon, where is your glory?

"Is it not yet a very little while
Till Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
And the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest?" (Isaiah 29:17)

I pray that this "very little while" arrive soon. I mourn for those who died in the last few days and those who will continue to die. After 15 years of civil strife, we thought forget the past, time will heal everything. This is convenient, no one had to repent of any deeds, no one had to compensate for any injuries. Hey presto, everything would fix itself. If we can't learn from our own mistakes, maybe others in this world can learn from them. People don't just "move on". Saying "sorry" and telling the other "you count, you are human too" is so essential.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The day we said "sorry"!

Today, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, said "sorry" to generations of indigenous Australians who were stolen from their families. As kids, they were removed by force from their parents and sent to institutions or white families so they could be "saved", "assimilated" and, some would say, so that the Aboriginal identity would be erased forever.

Some have opposed the apology on the following grounds:
  • It is an admission of guilt by a generation that had nothing to do with it; and
  • It does nothing practical to help ease the poverty and social disintegration of the Aborigines.
Yet, sorry is a powerful word and those in favour of uttering it won the debate. The parliament of Australia legislated for the removal of children from their families and it should say sorry, even if the mouthpiece is of a younger generation. The stolen generations have requested that they be apologised to and the least we can do is honour their wish.

Today is a historic day in the history of this country. Previously, I have resisted wearing symbols, draping myself in flags and all such demonstrations. Today, I wore a black, yellow and red bracelet at school and changed my facebook status to "sorry". My family was not in Australia and I wasn't even born when the injustice was committed. I want to be part of the future of Australia and I want my kids to grow up in a united country. Saying "sorry" is the beginning of the healing process.

I pray that practical steps do follow and that Aboriginal children grow up in health and dignity. Tonight I will sleep with this vision. "Tomorrow will worry about its own things" (Matthew 6:34).

Friday, January 25, 2008

End of the holidays

Today is officially the last day of the summer holidays. Tomorrow is Australia Day, so Monday is a public holiday. Tuesday is back to school for us teachers and on Friday we take the year 7s through the routine of using their lockers. The locks work very intuitively - not at all!

I have had a great 6 weeks at home. I spent heaps of time with my two kids, did some work on my Master's thesis (about half of what I had planned, mind you) and managed to slot in just enough double bass practice to stay at the same level (not a very ambitious attitude, I know). I taught my little one to sleep in his cot again and that was quite a good thing.

Anyway, the new school year beckons. Many things to do in preparation but as they say in the movies "bring it on"!

My best wishes to teachers around Australia as they get back into the classroom. I hope you have all had a holiday with much to be grateful for. I know I had.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mathematics as the science of reasoning

Last year, a music teacher at my school photocopied an article and placed it in my pigeonhole. I picked up the article and saw the title "Maths minus reason = failure". I assumed it was an apology for everything being taught with its real life applications. Gladly, I was wrong. The article was written by Marty Ross who does much to popularise mathematics in Victoria. His partner in this is Burkyard Polster. You might think of the pair as the Myth Busters of Mathematics - geeky, intelligent and entertaining.

Back to the article. Ross states: "Clearly the purpose for teaching mathematics cannot be primarily to convey facts and formulas that are rarely used and almost immediately forgotten. The true purpose is to teach the reasoning by which these facts can be established."

Ross goes on to lament the way in which the Pathegorean theorem is taught in Victoria. It is a formula to be accepted and applied over and over. He states that "the fundamental reason to teach the Pythagorean Theorem is because of its central role in Euclidean geometry, that monumental body of work immortalised in Euclid's Elements." And here is what he says about the Elements:
The Elements is the most successful textbook of all time ... But its popularity was not because of some universal love of geometry ... . The real lesson was the process by which these geometric truths were obtained. The Elements is a brilliant, extended display of reasoning, beginning with a small number of accepted truths and proving all that follows.
Ross then presents a pictorial proof of the theorem and expresses his sadness at the fact that no emphasis is based on the beauty and simplicity of such mathematics. Instead, the curriculum documents present maths as a list of facts to be remembered and prescribe an ever increasing use of technology.

Ross then puts on his university lecturer's hat and says that, despite the fact that he teaches those students to need or choose to do maths at a university level, he finds that they "enter university viewing mathematics as no more than a collection of facts, upon which they have the most tenuous grasp. Albert Einstein said: 'Any fool can know. The point is to understand.'"

Reading Ross' description of Euclid's Elements is like reading a synopsis of my year 11 Geometry textbook. I was educated under an old-fashioned adaptation of the French system. We learned many theorems, always with their proofs. The test was always guaranteed to throw a new fact or a theorem at us with the simple question "demontrer que ..." or "show that ...".

I have often heard people say "how could maths be made different?" and each time I have thought "Oh, believe me, we could be teaching very different stuff."