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And What is Your Take on This?



Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry ... . To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.

George Polya
Mathematician/Mathematics Educator
1887 - 1985


B.E. first shared this quote on a Math Forum NYSMSMATH listserve (10/7)

B.D. responded: It’s a nice thought. But what if a student finishes high school without even the most basic math knowledge, or just doesn’t finish. Those teenagers are dumped into an unforgiving workplace with little hope. Polya has nothing for them, nor, apparently, do we.

B.E. Responded: Polya has many helpful problem solving strategies that are well worth learning and teaching. They can apply to any type of problem even those not mathematical. I had hoped that the quote might be a positive way to start the year.

B.D. responded: Indeed, positive is good, but so is reality. It’s a reality that too many students leave school as mathematical illiterates. Say what you will about tests, there’s something wrong when the “passing” score is mere points above random guessing. Who’s fault? There’s enough blame to go around. However, teachers are going to be held accountable, and there will be pressure from administrators - there already is. Teachers will have to learn how to manage this situation. In my view, the most positive thing we can do is acknowledge that this accountability stage will be here for a while, and to learn how to cope effectively. That means helping teachers focus more directly on the curriculum and teaching students to take tests. This goal can be accomplished, and it’s going to make a difference in the professional lives of teachers.

And, another reader then stated that there apparently was no hope, and he should take down the Polya quotation he had hung on his board!

My response: How sad!