Education was once a matter of sitting down with a learned person and having a discussion. This could involve drawing with sticks in the sand as with the ancient Greeks or being given challenging tasks and asked to return with progress like the, largely lost, Kung Fu masters of China. The commonality these all share is that the lessons were tailored for each student and the time between teacher and student could be very small. In the case of mathematics, a subject that sits at the junction of science, art and philosophy, a nimble creative mind is essential. The current drive to teach standardized curricula with standardized tests is obviously the worst possible option after doing nothing. One can learn tricks and cram for tests but this leaves little imprint and student’s lose most love for the subject they might have had.
The problem is not in the schools or the teachers but in the very concept of curricula. It is well accepted in Eastern Europe that the best way to learn math is to give problems, HARD problems, and then let students struggle with their own ideas to solve them. Success can be rare and the challenge is to make them hard but possible for success to occur some fraction of the time. Sometimes a directed hint can be added to steer one away from bad directions. This is only suited for a one-on-one approach with a knowledgeable and caring mentor and his student.
It is not enough to know one’s subject. The goal is not to lecture but encourage and steer when needed. Success is having the student realize much of what he would have been taught he could have figured out himself and that the greats of the past were, in many cases, not so much greater than he or she can be. A great tutor spends a lot of time listening and knowing when to shut up. Letting students pursue their interests while ensuring they learn essential broad skills is a fine art but that is what I have practiced and am offering for services. It is said that those who can, do and those who can’t, teach. I suggest that those who can do and can shut up and observe at the right times can mentor students in ways beyond what we generally would ever consider just “teaching.”
It is hard to quantify intelligence. There are so many ways to be smart and people tend to excel in areas they like and have motivation. I don’t know what makes a student gifted. I do know how to recognize interest and inspiration. If you have a child who is motivated in math and schools are crushing him or you cannot help him in this area, contact me. I am now available for skype sessions as well. My process is to discuss his or her interests and try them on some problems to find their strengths. From here we can discuss the goals for their achievement whether it be totally free form learning or working in a set of skills they will need for standardized tests but in a way that grows from such a mentored problem based approach to mathematics.