# Can I ask a math question

"Mathematics Debate" on May 2nd:

#### A draft of the possible

The math debate in the *Süddeutsche Zeitung* falls short in that, by focusing the discussion on the deplorably low level of arithmetic in German students, it focuses on a phenomenon that is less of a grievance than that it is part of the grievance: the greatly exaggerated importance of arithmetic in German School system.

Mastering arithmetic as well as writing and reading is certainly an important, actually indispensable cultural technique - and moreover a prerequisite for mathematics, but it is not mathematics. Mathematics is more the art of making arithmetic superfluous through thinking, with the help of various tricks and methods, which range from the simplest bracketing and summary technique to elaborate infinite summation or differentiation.

Even more: Mathematics is less a science of reality than a science of possibility; it is the science of exploring the provable, not the factual. The quintessence of mathematics lies in the skillful construction of terms using various concepts such as number, chance or environment, the infinitely small and the infinitely large, the quantity and the function and many other concepts. And yet it is precisely this difference between mathematics as a servant in the tow of the empirical sciences and as a constructive a priori discipline that is only committed to itself in Germany, the land of notorious despisers of mathematics, being ignored, suppressed and covered over.

But those who never take note of what is in mathematics: the incitement to the design of possibilities, yes to the possibility man, as Robert Musil outlines him in the form of his protagonist Ulrich in "Man without Qualities", who never takes note of what mathematics can be used for - namely, to think through, construct or even reject drafts of the non-empirical, logically possible - cannot free oneself from the dictates of the mere administration and exploitation of the existing, and is forever thrown back on the stigma of cold calculating reason.

Many people far removed from mathematics, including often school children, consider mathematics to be a definitive collection of knowledge that has existed since prehistoric times, the knowledge of which was only awaiting subsequent acquisition and acquisition. After that, learning mathematics would be forever chasing after, a tortured reproduction of familiar material. No, this is not math; Mathematics first and foremost requires the free-thinking mind, which goes first with its interests, objectives and questions, in order to advance science. How about empowering students in math lessons to develop new perspectives and new questions? If anything, then this would be an approach to reform this teaching: in the sense of promoting methodical thinking, logical reasoning, the playful construction of solutions to problems that the subjects see themselves confronted with.

*Dr. Werner Kutschmann, PD for Education, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main*

#### Calculate the size of the plant

I am currently graduating from high school and can therefore understand the criticism of the current class. Math lessons are actually very abstract and therefore very difficult for less gifted and interested students. The application tasks do not compensate for this, as they are largely meaningless in terms of content and implausible. So once I had to calculate the size of a houseplant using integrals, which probably nobody does in everyday life.

On the other hand, the content is sometimes duplicated in social science subjects, which does not exactly help motivate the students. For example, in the twelfth grade, the topic of globalization was discussed three times, in English, geography and social studies, which at some point will be enough.

I think the curriculum needs to be updated. Duplication of topics must be deleted; instead, issues should be viewed from different angles. In the science subjects, what has been learned in math lessons should be applied; Application examples and tasks in math class should also appear believable. In the social science subjects (depending on the topic) scientific knowledge should also be included and vice versa.

*Elina Köster, Munich*

#### The curriculum disrupts creativity

What all three pleadings in the mathematics debate have in common is, above all, the complaint about the students' lack of interest in mathematics (first and second article) and in the "humanities" (third article). However, none of the articles comes up with the simple idea of asking those affected, namely the students. Much is conjectured: what could the students be interested in? How do we convey enthusiasm? Strangely enough, however, directing oneself to the interests of the pupils in class is not an option. It could be argued that a student might answer that he is not interested in anything, or at least not interested in anything from the offerings that are available at the school. For one thing, I think that's unlikely, after all, everyone has at least their favorite subject. On the other hand, a certain guidance of the teacher is of course required in the search for focal points of interest, a guidance through the infinite wealth of phenomena that people can encounter (ideally the elementary school should serve this purpose). On the basis of an interest found, links can then be made to other areas that a student might not have suspected that they are related to his interest and can help him deal with it. He also recognizes that a broad general education in every area is useful.

In order to better take individual interests into account at school, classes would ultimately have to be formed so that they summarize the same primary interests, similar to what the first article suggests. But even in the conventional school system, pupil interests can already come into their own. The principle should be (of course there are exceptions): It is not the teachers who ask questions to which students reel off memorized answers, but the students ask questions that interest them, whereupon answers are sought and discussed together. Unfortunately, many teachers are not able to do this because they are under time pressure due to a syllabus that has to be worked through, need (supposedly) objective criteria for assigning grades and as a result of these circumstances often lose interest in their lessons themselves. More freedom for the teachers would therefore be desirable as a prerequisite for a stronger individual focus.

*Felix Aiwanger, Munich*

#### sym-pathein

"Ask, understand, empathize" from May 2nd: I thought of a poem by Dorothee Sölle (1929-2009) about this article, which shows how important Roman and Greek literature and philosophy are for our self-image in the context of the humanities : "my young daughter asks me / learn greek why / sym-pathein I say / a human ability / animals and machines are missing / learn to conjugate / greek is not yet forbidden" [poem without punctuation, sym-pathein = separated in the original text from 1978]

*Joachim Krause, Wachtberg *

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