by Kareem Carr
One of the essays that has had the deepest effect on my thinking about mathematics is ‘On Proof and Progress in Mathematics’ by William P. Thurston.
As I mentioned in my last post, earlier this year I volunteered to mentor a primary school student in mathematics. At the end of the first section, Thurston writes, “[t]he measure of our success is whether what we do enables people to understand and think more clearly and effectively about mathematics”. While it may be difficult to argue that someone who does not spend a large proportion of their time doing research mathematics is a mathematician, I consider mathematics to be fundamentally about the above quote and that there is a significant proportion of mathematics that involves human beings and human understanding of mathematics. For me, this may involve increasing my own understanding (as I am also a human being after all); tutoring or inspiring others; lecturing; and researching and publishing, that is, endeavoring to understand a particular piece of mathematics and then to transmit that understanding to others. For this reason, I see lecturing, mentoring, and tutoring as important parts of a mathematical life.
I was recently reading about Eugene Lim’s experiences teaching mathematics in Haiti. I do not often think of a researcher as being in a position to provide much help in the aftermath of an earthquake. His account makes it evident that he clearly did make a difference. He ends his article by saying,
I will be leaving Haiti in a few days. Personally, I found the teaching experience and my interactions with the Haitians incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. But it was also very sobering to see the damage, destruction and human misery caused by the quake. There is a lingering sense of not having done enough, and that there is so much more left to be done. I do plan to come back again, and perhaps learn enough Creole to teach in it next time.
You can read all about it in his guest post at Cosmic Variance.
Do you have any volunteering experiences you would like to share?