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A Mathematician's Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  589 ratings  ·  99 reviews
“One of the best critiques of current mathematics education I have ever seen.”—Keith Devlin, math columnist on NPR’s Morning Edition

A brilliant research mathematician who has devoted his career to teaching kids reveals math to be creative and beautiful and rejects standard anxiety-producing teaching methods. Witty and accessible, Paul Lockhart’s controversial approach will
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Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Ioana
As a mathematics teacher and long-time student of mathematics, I was overjoyed to begin reading this book, finally one that attempts to explain the beauty and elegance of mathematics and to expose the way in which we are teaching it, which does not do justice to it at all. I absolutely agree with *most* of Lockhart's assessment on many points, for example, that mathematics is an art, that it should not be taught as procedures and formulas and meaningless word problems that contrive to be about " ...more
Sally
I know - 4 stars? Really? The content and the ideas and the presentation are 5-star material. He's a bit crude sometimes, and there's a particularly hedonistic phrase used near the end of the book (part 2, not the free essay material) that I felt was just unneeded. And since I recommended this to all my dear homeschooling friends, some of whom have tender sensibilities, I knocked a star off. Disclaimer done.

Now, for the high praises!! YES, math is supposed to be FUN. It's about noticing, thinkin
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Angela
A Mathematician's Lament is more of a long essay than a book--one man's problems with mathematics education without a viable solution. Now, I consider myself, while no mathematician, a mathematics...enthusiast, if you will. I read the occasional recreational mathematics book, I am one of the three people on earth who subscribes to the journal of recreational mathematics, I am constantly sneaking new variations on Tangrams and other puzzles into the house. And I am definitely not a fan of modern ...more
Georg
If you like Mathematics and if you like a Polemic Opinion this wll be your book. Lockhart's criticism is certainly exaggerated, but I knew from the beginning that in his heart he was right. The best parts of his book were not dedicated to the educational system but to his love for Mathematics. And though he only gave some examples I knew what he meant. I was sitting on the shore of the Maltese Meditaranian ocean and I needed four beers to understand his (geometrical) "proof for the fact, that th ...more
Tracy Black
This was TERRIBLE. The first chapter began so well and had me so psyched about the book. Lockhart made an analogy between mathematics and music, where a musician wakes from a terrible dream in which public schools teach only the mechanics of music, but students are not allowed to compose or listen to music until college level. I thought it was a brilliant analogy. But it was downhill from there. His solution to the problem of math not being "fun" seemed to be to no longer teach the mechanics of ...more
Phil
May 26, 2009 Phil rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is fantastic. I recommend it to all those people who, upon hearing from me that I do math, have replied, "Oh, I suck at math" or "Oh, I always hated math in school." For years I've encountered a recurring frustration at the fact that, when I tell people that I'm studying mathematics, I tend to discover that they have a completely wrong impression of what it is that I do (or at least try to do), and that it is not easy to correct this impression. I try to tell them: you hate math becaus ...more
K.
Jul 05, 2011 K. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Math haters
Recommended to K. by: Sally B.
Shelves: education
Disclaimer 1) This is only a review of the 25 page essay, which can be found here: http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLa.... Why am I reviewing the essay instead of the book? Well, I don’t have the book, but I did read the essay and thought that posting a review of even part of it would be of worth to some poor, sad, math-challenged-but-don’t-know-why soul.

Disclaimer2) I know next to nothing about mathematics, but am endeavoring to want to learn it. God bless you, Sally B., for sending me the li
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Nick
Slightly expanded from the essay online (pdf) in that it has a Part II: Exultation where Lockhart wants to "tell you more about what math really is and why I love it so much." (p.92).

Seriously, this is a great essay/book. Worth reading probably once a semester, if not more. And before structuring a class (curriculum). The faux dialog at the end of every section is awesome, and indicates good ways to respond to nay-sayers (are there any?), even if not all of the questions/concerns are fully addre
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Doug
OK - so my dirty secret is that my degree is in mathematics. I have always loved math - it is art to me, not the dry statistical applications that we think of as math in our schools. That's arithmetic - there's no creativity there, mostly just rote memorization. This book is a brilliant, passionate, sometimes over the top, treatise by a teacher and mathematician about the beauty of math, and how our schools and teachers, and society are screwing it up. He sometimes takes it too far - and I absol ...more
Ivan Vukovic
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, where do I start!

Perhaps with this: YOU, YES YOU, READ THIS ASAP, I'm strongly convinced you won't regret it, especially if you're involved with maths in one way or the other!

This is by far the most inspiring book on mathematics I've ever stumbled upon and I honestly doubt that I'll stumble again on something so honest, so true, so passionate and human! I'm sure many of you mathematics lovers will experience the same feeling of joy and understanding when you hear what Loc
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Jane
If you hated math in school, read this and give math another chance.

If you teach math, consider how you might incorporate just a hint of what this book suggests for embracing real math in the classroom, in spite of standards, testing, curriculum, and your own education.

If you think your own children need more math practice and homework, read this and ponder the similarities between math and art and what you really want for your child.

If you're a writer, read this and weep at how you fail to ge
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Eric Napier
What I hoped for:
-the state of mathematics education is bad. Here's why.
-here's an analogy illustrating the sorry state of mathematics education
-here's some insight into how mathematicians think about math
-here's what we can do to improve math education in America
-here are some actionable items that you can employ today to make your children's math education more enjoyable and more thorough

What I got:
-here's an analogy illustrating the sorry state of math education
-here's another analogy
-another
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Andrew Martin
a clear, well argued, commendable cri de coeur, to be sure; 5 stars for the indictment but maybe two for the solutions.

it's true that the way we teach HS math is intellectually bankrupt. Lockhart's solution is math for math's sake - an un-curricilum built around puzzles and games, designed mostly to create those moments of pure awe that grappling with abstract concepts can bring. but like most austere utopias, I'm not sure I actually sure it's the right place for most of us to reside.

there's a
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Timothy Chklovski
I largely sympathize with Sally's review. Having done a fair amount of math -- especially the kind author advocates -- i easily agree that it is the thinking, and the exploratory/experimental nature of it that confers the most valuable skills. But that actually puts me in opposition to the author -- I'm saying his kind of math education is useful, whereas he argues for it on the basis that it is joyful (I think he implies that usefulness should be rejected as a basis, as cold utilitarianism).

And
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Mms Mamdouh
The first part of the book focus on a debate to show that mathematics is learnt in a totally wrong way and teachers of mathematics should have a joy of math and try to transfer it to students. And show that math was created to give joy to its tasters as poem and sculpture.

The second part is to give examples of the beauty and elegant of math.
Ben Kim
This work is a must-read for any student of mathematics interested in going into academia or mathematics education. It is refreshing to see the underlying beauty of mathematics analogized in atypical ways, and Lockhart is masterful in the way he does so.
Kirsten Swanson
This is a beautifully, passionately written book. I especially liked the last part, when he discussed the things that particularly make mathematicians giddy.
Paulo Glez Ogando
This is an essay on math teaching, namely on the mathematics taught in USA primary and secondary school. The author's ideas are against the current curriculum and textbooks, he doesn't like at all the way maths are been teaching today.

I liked the metaphor he begins with, maths like music or painting. I believe maths is an art, like Lockhart does. And in their beauty as well. He criticizes a lot of patterns in current math teaching that I agree: the preponderance of algorithms versus the pure ide
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Rori Rockman
My boyfriend looked over my page at one point while I was reading this book. He saw a diagram and was really impressed and I suspect he thought I was basically doing math homework for fun. Hardly.

The focus of this book is pointing out the beauty in math. The author writes about how there are so many different ways to prove something, and the fun and challenge is finding the most elegant way to do so. It's about creativity and self-expression. He also talks about finding patterns and discovering
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Sara
Feb 14, 2012 Sara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
I found this book fascinating. It discusses how the way we teach math robs students of seeing its beauty. I agree with all the points he makes in the first half about how we teach students to be followers of procedures, not to be problem solvers. It starts out with a musician having a horrible dream in which music education is required. All students must learn the "language" of music, must be able to draw black dots and lines, how one student didn't get the points on her assignment because her s ...more
Andrew Frueh
This book should be required reading for EVERYONE.

The book begins with a fiendishly clever thought experiment. Imagine a reality where music education is deemed mandatory. "They are helping their students to be more competitive in an increasingly sound filled world". Educators, committees, and the state are put to work on this enterprise. Because musicians are known to set down their ideas in sheet music, these dots and lines must constitute "the language of music". It becomes imperative that st
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Julesmarie
I loved the first half of this book, even though the author at times crossed the line from enthusiastic almost right into ecclesiastic. At least he left no question in the reader's mind as to the urgency with which he views this issue.

And I completely agree with several things he said regarding education in general. I loved how he said "teaching is not about information. It's about having an honest intellectual relationship with your students." That's the closest description I've found to how I
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Kasey
When I was 20 years old, I walked into a symbolic logic class at a big time liberal arts university because the philosophy department seemed like the easiest path to those math credits I needed. I fell in love. Proofs were fun, I was good at it, and the act of reasoning through those problems was a creative endeavor that provided the same high as writing a great short story or haiku.

How come none of this came up when talking to my high school math teachers? Why was I always the kid who was "no
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Zoe
This is an interesting indictment of our current system of mathematics education, a subject that I almost always enjoy reading about (I very nearly became a mathematics teacher myself not long ago). Lockhart makes his point clearly, eloquently, and succintly--this is a very quick read at only 140 pages of fairly large type.

I agree with much of what he says, though I do think that his claims sometimes go a bit too far: he doesn't seem to see much point in learning to add in an age of calculators,
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Ben
How does school cheat us out of our most fascinating and imaginative art form? This book provides an excellent answer in a very passionate and at times hilarious manner. The books starts with the thesis that mathematics is not simply number crunching, nor the learning of procedures, but rather a form of art which is even much more profound than others forms of art, such as a painting or sculpture, since it's not restricted to the laws of our universe. Mathematics may very well be useful at times ...more
Jessica
I picked this up on a whim as I perused the shelves at the library for some math books to brush up on my skills before starting a math class next semester (it's been a while since the last math class). I was expecting some good points about the flaws of the current methods of teaching math. This was so much more. The first half of the books or so is in fact the author's many (well founded) complaints in regards to the way math is taught in school, but the second half is the real gem in my opinio ...more
Bonnie Y
Apr 15, 2009 Bonnie Y rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: most anyone, particularly math teachers, parents, students, or people who hated math!
Recommended to Bonnie by: newspaper book review
Shelves: mathematics
This is a brand new book, which is an expanded essay about why math is taught all wrong in schools. It's delightfully short - I just read it all this evening!

The author's thesis is that math is an art, and we are teaching the grunt work of math, but not the enjoyment of the art.

He starts with a "Lamentation" about how terrible school math is, as if we were teaching kids to read music notes on paper, without ever letting them listen to, play or compose music.

But then he concludes with "Exultation
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Amanda
"This is how math problems arise-just from sincere and serendipitous exploration. And isn't that how every great thing in life works? Children understand this. They know that learning and playing are the same thing. How sad that the grownups have forgotten. They think learning is a chore, so they make it one."

Full disclosure; I wanted to like this book, and I did. The author is passionate and playful, the book is funny at times, and serious at others, and he clearly understands all of the points
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Ilib4kids
510.71 LOC
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
P39. To help your students memorize formula for the area and circumference of a circle, for example, you might invent a whole story about Mr. C, who drive around Mrs. A and tell her how nice his two pies are , and how her pies are square or some nonsense. But what about the real story? The
...more
Jessi
Dec 07, 2013 Jessi is currently reading it
I keep reading things about teaching math, or watching TED talks on it, because it is my current educational thing to obsess over.
I'm liking this short book/essay a lot, so far. There is a lot quotable, but these things are helping me when I think about how I've been teaching math (crappily).

Q. But don’t we need third graders to be able to do arithmetic?

A. Why? You want to train them to calculate 427 plus 389? It’s just not a question that very many eight-year-olds are asking...It is simply to
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Paul Lockhart became interested in mathematics when he was 14 (outside the classroom, he points out). He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself exclusively to math. Based on his own research he was admitted to Columbia, received a PhD, and has taught at major universities, including Brown University and UC Santa Cruz. Since 2000 he has dedicated himself to "subversively" teach ...more
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“It is the story that matters not just the ending.” 52 likes
“No mathematician in the world would bother making these senseless distinctions: 2 1/2 is a "mixed number " while 5/2 is an "improper fraction." They're EQUAL for crying out loud. They are the exact same numbers and have the exact same properties. Who uses such words outside of fourth grade?” 28 likes
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