24 May 2010

On teaching from requisite ignorance

In my first teaching job in the late 'sixties, I remember passing time with a more senior colleague, while waiting for our evening classes to start. He posed the question, "Is it possible to be too intelligent to be a good teacher?"

In those days, when I could claim to be "quite bright" on the basis of a "good" degree from a very fashionable university--but without benefit of much experience of life, work, serious relationships or anything much--I thought that was rubbish. That was before I found out how rubbish a teacher I was (and still am, in some respects).

Sadly, Martin Gardner has died, at 95. The heading link is to Alex Bellos' blog of interviewing him in 2008 (the opening paragraphs give the background). But I was particularly struck by this exchange:

What about the complicated maths in the column?

I worked very hard to understand it. I am basically a journalist. Beyond calculus I am lost. That was the secret of my column’s success. It took me so long to understand what I was writing about that I knew how to write about it so most readers would understand it. If I had been a better mathematician I couldn’t have done that.
(My emphasis)

No further comment necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Schremmer Alain6:43 am

    "If I had been a better mathematician I couldn’t have done that."

    It really depends on what one means by "good mathematician" and on how good a human being one is.


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