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Archive for September 28, 2008

Bad Dreams

September 28, 2008 1 comment

Each of us must be plagued by certain families of recurring dreams, dreams we are happily free of until the next time we awaken from one of them. For me, there are the elevator dreams, the low-flying-airplane dreams, and perhaps worst, the not-prepared-to-teach dreams.

Mind you, thanks to a variety of administrative jobs, I haven’t taught a regular class in years (though that will change soon). But I remain shaken by dreams in which I find myself in front of a class of math students with no idea what I’m supposed to cover that day. There is no better feeling than waking up to realize that I don’t actually have to teach, that I can escape the humiliating experience of standing in front of a group of people with no idea what I’m doing.

Maybe Sarah Palin is hoping she will awaken with similar relief. “No, John McCain didn’t really ask me to be his vice-presidential running mate.” Or, “No, I didn’t really say yes when I was asked.” I do wonder how she feels.

One thing about mathematics: you can’t fake it. The subject is unforgiving. If you have a statement you wish to prove, either you have a proof or you don’t. And if you don’t, saying everything you can think of that is germane is no substitute for a proof. Sometimes silence really is golden. (I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a bad thing to state everything you can think of as part of the process of searching for a proof. But searching for a proof is not the same as having a proof, and it is important to know the difference.)

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Categories: Math, Teaching