“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ…

In 1650, the Scots joined with Charles II and prepared, once more, to invade England.  The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (the Scottish Kirr) sent Cromwell a justification for its acts and in return, Cromwell sent a letter that included the memorable phrase “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

It is a salutary thing to remember – we may be wrong, despite our strong beliefs.

For the last couple of years I have been down on my math department colleagues for their teaching. I thought they were not challenging the kids sufficiently, that they went too much by the book, that the “projects” in their classes were infantile and that in general they are what I call teachers of math rather than math teachers.

But… what if I am wrong? What if their teaching is appropriate for the level of kids we have? After all, most of these kids will never likely have to solve for x in the rest of their lives.  Why give them challenging problems about things like conic sections, geometric series or systems of three equations? Why not just teach the basics, just enough to get them through the state testing with enough of a performance to make the school look good? Who cares if they don’t remember it the next day? Who cares if they take remedial math in college?  – they are no longer “ours”.

There is something to be said for teaching at a level appropriate to our “raw materials”.

But then… another memorable quote comes to my mind, this time much, much newer. It is best known in an interpretation by Peggy Lee: “Is that all there is?”

Yin and yang.


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