Commentary Magazine


Learning Math

To the Editor:

David Guaspari, in his review of Overcoming Math Anxiety by Sheila Tobias [Books in Review, October 1994], is of course right to note that Tobias errs in describing Plato’s Republic as “Socrates’ best-known treatise on government” and in identifying it as his Dialogue, but he goes overboard in characterizing this error as “a serious cultural failing” and a “howler.”

Unless, that is, he is prepared to make the same criticism of Allan Bloom’s analysis. At the very outset of the interpretive essay accompanying his translation of the Republic, Bloom writes: “The Republic is the true Apology of Socrates, for only in the Republic does he give an adequate treatment of the theme which was forced on him by Athens’s accusation against him.”

The context of Tobias’s reference is a discussion of the Socratic method, suggesting that, properly understood, it provides a model for teaching mathematics. No more than Bloom does she commit a cultural trespass of any kind, let alone a howler, in regarding Plato’s Republic as a rendering of the teachings of Socrates.

Sanford Lakoff
University of California
San Diego, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

David Guaspari’s review of the latest version of the great Sheila Tobias ripoff has, at last, rectified for me the wrongs perpetrated by this artist of the trendy and shallow. I suffered the wave of enthusiasm that Tobias engendered at Cornell in the wake of the 60′s disasters, and was at that point a tiny and totally ostracized voice of dissent. Thank you.

Nadine F. George
Gambier, Ohio

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David Guaspari writes:

My clucking over Sheila Tobias’s factual howlers—and “howler” is exactly right—was a rhetorical way of dismissing her book’s cultural pretensions. Sanford Lakoff says that the specific passage I dismissed, despite its warts, made an important point. Doing so required him to perform an act of charity, by elevating a few banal paragraphs to “a discussion of the Socratic method” and attributing to them the significance they might have had if he or Allan Bloom had rewritten them.

Let me finish by thanking Nadine F. George for her letter.

About the Author




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