Excerpted from: Blythe Clinchy, Wellesley College, Teaching Excellence v. 4 no. 4



Teachers, of course, need to know ìthe factsî about the material, but if our task as teachers is at least partly to arrange a marriage between the student and the content, then it behooves us to know something about the student, too, especially about the relationship s/he presently has to the material. And the system as it stands conspires to keep us at a distance from the student and the student at a distance from the subject matter. . .


Dorothy Buerk, a teacher at Ithaca College who is trying to help alienated students ìconnectî with mathematics, and a former student, Jackie Szableweski, tell the story of Jackies experience in Dorothys Writing Seminar on Mathematics. Dorothy asked her students to use metaphors to represent their experience with mathematics. In her first journal entry, Jackie used a metaphor we have seen in many other students: the student, she writes, ìis in the role of the tourist who merely looks out at the sights that surround them as they travel past in a blurred rush.î


Within each course, we keep students moving at a brisk pace so as to ensure coverage of all the important topics listed in the syllabus; no dawdling allowed. Across courses, students are expected to apportion their time evenly enough to do well in everything, regardless of the degree of attachment they may feel for a particular course. This system pretty much assures that no student will become immersed in any one topic or any one course. . .

How sad if our students experience their education like a whirlwind tour of Europe. How much better it might be if we could all get off the bus and spend some time getting to know the locals. How much more effective we might be if we allowed the students to become ìconnectedî to the material, to find the relationship between themselves and the content. It would require connected knowing, the suspension of judgment and the use of deliberate procedures for eliciting and attending to students narratives of experiences related to the material we are studying. It requires that when we ask a student, ìWhy do you think that?î we make it clear that we mean not ìHow can you justify that point? but ìWhat in your experience has led you to that idea?î


 Buerk, D. and Szablewski, J. (1993) Getting Beneath the Mask. In Alvin White (ed.) Essays in Humanistic Mathematics. MAA Notes #32. Washington D.C.: Mathematical Associaton of America.