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The "Art" of Arithmetic

At Trinity, teachers are continuing their learning, even at something that might be considered mundane at other schools, like a faculty meeting.

At this week's faculty meeting, Humanities teacher Dr. Andrew Selby made the case that there is value to a teacher to learn outside of their expertise...for humanities teachers to learn about math, for math teachers to learn about language, etc. Why? For one thing, we expect our students to learn all the subjects. And teaching is relational; students become like their teachers. If a teacher has a dislike for a subject, students may pick up on that. With the disparity in any given population between those who love math and those who hate math, it's important that teachers at Trinity at least have an understanding that helps them to embrace and appreciate math a little bit more.

Dr. Selby reviewed the three reasons that classical teachers can share with their students to encourage the study of math:

1. Transcendence and mystery (number is found throughout the cosmos)
2. Formation of the mind (to find beauty in order and to develop the virtue of persistence)
3. Expediency (a tool to get along in the world and make money) - the reason that modern education would use for the study of math.        

Referencing a book by Nicomachus, Arithmetic, Dr. Selby noted that Wisdom is the knowledge and comprehension of reality. And Reality is what always remains the same. Nicomachus started with ‘unchanging reality’ and narrowed it down ultimately to math. From the birth of the quadrivium (geometry and astronomy, arithmetic and music), he argued that of the four, arithmetic should be studied first, since geometry assumes some knowledge of math, one must know how to count in order to play music, and astronomy also presupposes a grasp of shape/space/math concepts. Therefore arithmetic would be foundational to all study.

Arithmetic is beautiful and because it has order, it’s predictable. Chaos is not predictable. Number fosters wonder – the properties of number are delightful and mysterious. Finding truth and beauty is what math is about.