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Interchange

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 1–23 | Cite as

Mathematics as Liberal Education: Whitehead and the Rhythm of Life

  • Howard Woodhouse
Article

Abstract

In several of his works, Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) presents mathematics as a way of learning about general ideas that increase our understanding of the universe. The danger is that students get bogged down in its technical operations. He argues that mathematics should be an integral part of a new kind of liberal education, incorporating science, the humanities, and “technical education” (making things with one’s hands), thereby integrating “head-work and hand-work.” In order to appreciate the role mathematics plays in modern science, students should understand its diverse history which is capable of bringing abstract ideas to life. Moreover, mathematics can discern the alternating rhythms of repetition and difference in nature constituting the periodicity of life. Since these same rhythms are to be found in his theory of learning as growth, there appears to be a pattern linking Whitehead’s approach to mathematics and his educational philosophy.

Keywords

Mathematics Liberal education Whitehead Rhythmic cycles of growth Technical education Integrating the curriculum History of mathematics Periodicity Rhythm of life 

Notes

Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this article was presented to the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Free University of Brussels (VUB) on 16th May 2012. Dr Ronny Desmet, Research Fellow at the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, was kind enough to invite me and chair the session, Dr Michel Weber, Centre de philosophie pratique et Chromatiques whiteheadiennes, made the initial arrangements for my lecture, and the audience posed interesting questions. Dr Ian Winchester (Dean Emeritus of Education, University of Calgary), Dr Michael Collins (Professor Emeritus, Department of Educational Foundations, University of Saskatchewan), and Viola Woodhouse (Professor, Department of Philosophy, St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan) all made helpful comments on earlier drafts, as did Vincent Cable and Murray Guest, both high school teachers of mathematics and physics. I am also indebted to my colleagues in the University of Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit—Professors Mark Flynn, Bob Regnier, Ed Thompson, and Adam Scarfe—for their ongoing support over the years.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Foundations, College of EducationUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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