I sat this morning reading a little of The Book of Life, by Krishnamurti – something which I like to browse through and ponder from time to time. This morning’s meditation somehow felt very apt as I attempt to get almost 800 students to enjoy mathematics, and learn its techniques as well as its beauty. The meditation was the following:
How is the state of attention to be brought about? It cannot be cultivated through persuasion, comparison, reward or punishment, all of which are forms of coercion. The elimination of fear is the beginning of attention. Fear must exist as long as there is an urge to be or to become, which is the pursuit of success, with all its frustrations and tortuous contradictions. You can’t teach concentration, but attention cannot be taught just as you cannot possibly teach freedom from fear; but we can begin to discover the causes that produce fear, and in understanding these causes there is the elimination of fear. So attention arises spontaneously when around the student there is an atmosphere of well-being, when he has the feeling of being secure, of being at ease, and is aware of the disinterested action that comes with love. Love does not compare, and so the envy and torture of `becoming’ cease.
Fear is certainly a major part of the barrier to enjoying and understanding mathematics. How do you think a mathematics course can be taught such that fear is minimised? What can be done in the classroom, and the manner of giving homeworks which still allows for a deep and thorough investigation of many topics, while not instilling fear in the learner? I would love to know your thoughts.