In the dark of our heads we shape it with number

This post has been inspired by the words of Peter Hooper and David Malouf.

Yesterday, I went to the Masters of Emotion art exhibition currently showing at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery. One of the exhibits was a poem by Peter Hooper; partly given below:

Poetry isn’t in my words

It’s in the direction I’m pointing

If you can’t understand that

And if you’re appalled at the journey

Stick to the guided tours

It occurred to me that teaching and learning are much like this – the journey is the real education; the content merely the vehicle by which we explore the landscape. In what direction do we point our students with the what, the why and the how of our teaching? One of my favourite quotes about mathematics is from W.S. Anglin:”Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness where the explorers often get lost”

Do we sometimes forget about the journey in our desire to get to the destination?

The title for this post comes from one of David Malouf’s poems: The Long View. This poem is one featured in his latest published collection called “Typewriter Music”. In the poem with this title, he writes:

…The fingerpads

have it. Brailling through

etudes of alphabets…

…each…hammerstroke another notch

in the silence.

What do we send out into the silence in our classes? What concepts do we notch into our students’ minds like the raised notches on paper in braille? Or do we have little effect and their minds leave us as flat and as unmarked as when they arrived?

I am a huge fan of David Malouf’s phraseology and his perception and understanding of what defines us as human and characterises our behaviour. He writes beautiful sentences. This latest collection of poems and general musings on the nature of music has some lovely lines in it:

‘from our fingertips, our mouths

were enlightened’  (from Rain Poems)

This could be what happens when we write about concepts in order to articulate understandings and lead to coherence and connectivity between ideas (authentic literacy). What we write (or type!) with our fingertips can lead us to enlightenment…a clearer understanding.

From Making:

‘That a man should wonder

what he might find

at day’s end beyond darkness,

something made

that was not there till he made it’

I’ve often felt that it was very important for students to engage with the mathematics they are studying so that they create hooks in their brains on which to hang future learning. They must feel as if they have made it – not had it given to them.

And more from The Long View:

‘Wet your mouth

with the small words that keep us

kin: the thees, the thous

of border exchanges’

This is what we do every time we interact with students – we participate in something akin to a border exchange. And it is a measure of our relationship with these young people as to how well our message is received. Do we draw them in with how we relate to them or push them away? Too much ‘I’ and ‘you’ and not enough thee and thou??

And, finally, Malouf’s description of mathematics in the section of the book titled Mozart to da Ponte:

‘But music is just itself. It has no story to tell, no truth to utter, and it cannot lie because it proclaims nothing but is own perfect presence. It is in that sense innocent, a form of discourse, like mathematics, that belongs to a time before we had learned to set ourselves apart by naming things or had found a name for ourselves or one another…why should it want, as words do, to be elsewhere or yearn painfully, as words do, for before or after?’


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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