The name is a of course a play on Sartre’s “L’existentialisme est un humanisme” and “as” could be read as “is”.
The focus of the blog will be mathematics teaching and learning from humanistic points of view. Whatever that means – we’ll see.
I’m primarily interested in teaching and learning mathematics at the college and university level. This is where I’m active. Important as earlier stages in the mathematics education are, that’s nothing I can do much about. My objective is to try to enhance learning for students I actually meet.
In Sweden this corresponds to ages 19+, that is, young adults and adults. If I understand it correctly, in the US students start college at around 18 years of age. So Liberal Arts experiences in mathematics teaching is highly relevant for the Swedish situation.
The fact that the second half of the US college level of education corresponds so well with the first half of the Swedish university level was one of the motivations (I presume) behind the Swedish STINT foundation’s scholarship project ”Excellence in Teaching”. I spent the fall term of 2004 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY on such a scholarship. It was then that I came into contact with the Liberal Arts tradition.
Now, in September and October 2012, I’m going back to the US to visit a set of Liberal Arts colleges (14 in all) to discuss and learn about mathematics education in this context and environment.
Rationale for Liberal Arts
In Europe, in connection to the Bologna process, there is a focus on ”employability” as the overall outcome of education. University education in Sweden is almost exclusively vocational. Of course it cannot be denied that most people study in order to get a good and interesting job and a decent career. There’s nothing strange or wrong about that.
At the same time, society becomes ever more complex, and humanity faces outstanding challenges. We know nothing about the future. Education should also prepare for that. Then there are democratic, humanistic and personal values connected to education that cannot be reduced to a career in the workplace. I’m very sympathetic towards the kind of generalistic knowledge liberal arts education fosters. Even from a purely pragmatic point of view, the cornerstones of a liberal education are good both for the personal career and for the bettering of society.
Studying mathematics from that point of view should make sense.