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Thank You, Tom Lehrer...From All Mathematics Teachers!

Tom Lehrer is a paradox of sorts...or perhaps a chameleon. On the one hand, Lehrer received a BA in mathematics from Harvard University at age 18 (1947), a MA in mathematics one year later...then.... While remaining in the doctoral program at Harvard, he taught mathematics classes at MIT, Harvard, and Wellesley....and worked for the NSA, joined the army, etc. BUT, he also began to develop a musical career by writing and performing his original parodies and satirical songs.

In 1960, Lehrer returned to study mathematics at Harvard but never completed his degree. After a stint teaching political science courses at MIT, he began teaching mathematics (a course he called Math For Tenors) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. PLUS, he continued to write and perform songs on a wide variety of topics in his classes...having stopped giving stage performances in the mid-1960s. Lehrer retired from teaching mathematics in 2001.

So, you ask, how is Tom Lehrer a resource for mathematics teachers? Obtain CD copies of his songs and you will see why. My favorite is Lobachevsky, which I use in a geometry class when discussing the historical development of non-Euclidean geometries. My other two favorites are That's Mathematics (written for a symposium on the solution of Fermat's Last Theorem by Andrew Wiles) and New Math (a satirical look at what happens when mathematicians determine the elementary school mathematics curriculum).

To hear and enjoy his creative work, I suggest you buy the CD box set The Remains of Tom Lehrer (2000), which includes live and studio versions of his first album That Was The Year That Was plus songs written for The Electric Company and some previously unreleased material...PLUS a small text containing lyrics to all of his songs and an introduction by the infamous Dr. Demento.

Or, check out some Internet resources in my website review for this week. It also focuses on Tom Lehrer as a resource for mathematics teachers.