Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teaching Math - Pt. 3

When I began teaching, I had this ambition and eagerness to eventually get my kids to some sort of beatific vision through Neo-Platonic mysteries. I thought that a distinctively Christian approach to math might involve pushing children beyond shapes and equations onward into visions of the beauty of God. I mentioned that to one of my colleagues and he simply shrugged that it might be nice to get there, but honestly, it's hard enough just to teach them the essentials of the curriculum. I believe he was right.

This may sound Lutheran, but I more and more believe that my primary goal as a math teacher - as a Christian math teacher - is simply to teach my students mastery of the content that I am assigned to teach. This is my fourth year teaching basically the same curriculum, and I still have plenty of ways that I could teach it even better. When you really understand and appreciate the responsibilities of this job, there is never any shortage of goals and challenges. One simply needs the will and creativity.

This is not to say that math is separate from the unveiling of the face of God in nature - but only that the process of this unveiling is not as mystical and glamorous as meditating on triangles and the Trinity. Posted above my door is Vern Poythress' comment that mathematics is the rhyme of the universe. I believe that and I occasionally struggle to explain that to my students upon their asking. But much as you learn the Christian life through the drudgery of prayer, so do you learn the glistening harmony of the natural order through the monotony of solving linear equations.

Staring me in the face, from the back of the classroom, is Wittgenstein, firmly declaring to me over and over that there is nothing so difficult as not deceiving oneself. This is no less true in the field of secondary public education. We must be very clear about what our job is and do it very well. It is a hard job as much as it is an important job. Much more, it is a job that we can do unto the glory and honor of God, but as the cross reminds us, the shape of glory is not always identical to the honor of men.