Another Example of how Education can Kill Learning

A Mathematician’s Lament, by Paul Lockhart

I just found out about this essay from Ian Jukes, “A Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart.  Evidently, the document has been around since 2002 and has circulated on the Internet ever since.  The Los Angeles Times called it a “Gorgeous Essay.”

A professor at Stanford University, Keith Devlin, encouraged the author to expand the essay into a book for a broader audience. (( Reynolds. Susan. “‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ by Paul Lockhart; ‘The Rights of Spring’ by David Kennedy; and ‘Towards Another Summer’ by Janet Frame,” Los Angeles times 12 Apr 2009. Web.13 Jun 2009. <>. ))

Here are the opening two paragraphs.

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare.  In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory.  “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.”  Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project.  Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.”  It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory.  Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very adcollege, and more often graduate school.

You can download a PDF of the essay here or order the book here.

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3 thoughts on “Another Example of how Education can Kill Learning”

  1. Thanks for this link. As a literacy coordinator of coaches in high school we have looked at ways to collaborate with math teachers to enhance their instruction through empowering literacy strategies. This essay by Lockhart provides an engaging satire. Music is stripped of its art and its vitality through rote memorization, standardization, and routine. Similarly math is an art form that can be stripped of its magic if teachers are insensitive to ways of engaging students in vital ways.

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