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Math and GE: Why is Mathematics Part of Liberal Education?


In the late 50s, CP Snow, in his famous lecture, “The Two Cultures,” lamented the fragmentation of the learning in academe and the deepening wedge between the humanities and social sciences on one hand, and math and the sciences on the other. There are humanists who feel that math is merely a tool for technology, a collection of formulas and symbols with no connection to the great themes of our culture. On the other hand, there are teachers of math who teach math as nothing but an IQ test, forcing students through the drudgery of drills in algebra and calculus.

The goal of GE mathematics is to dispel these notions and convey the message that math has been and is linked in fundamental ways to the development of culture and our ways of thought. Our GE program, guided by the spirit of the liberal arts, is an opportunity to teach math and science not as an academic obstacle course, but as an adventure in ideas that is exciting and relevant to understanding the world.

Math is commonly reflected in math books and research articles (or even in the classroom) as a formal axiomatic system, a collection of formulas students memorize. But math is about ideas not formulas. It is the systematic study of patterns; a way of looking and making sense of the world. It is the language of science and its practical applications pervade almost every aspect of our lives. In this paper, we will discuss the goals and format of our GE math offerings (Math 1 and 2). These courses are designed to provide the student a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the nature of mathematics through an exploration of its applications, as well as its intellectual, aesthetic, and humanistic aspects, which are just as important as its utility.

The media player is loading... Dr. Fidel Nemenzo
Professor, Institute of Mathematics, College of Science

This vodcast is part of the UPD General Education Conference 2012

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