Firstly, I wanted to note that keeping a frequently-updated blog is hard. It has its own set of challenges that need to be overcome. Bit by bit.
But today, I talk about a sort of funny experience. Suppose for a moment that you had acquired a set of low-level math journals throughout the undergrad days, journals like the College Mathematics Journal, Mathematics Magazine, etc. Presuming that you didn’t want to keep them in graduate school (I don’t – they’re heavy and I have online access), what would you do with them?
This was how I found myself after I graduated from Tech. At first, I thought that either a professor or student in the math department would want them – but they didn’t. Those that cared to read them already had access to them, and those that didn’t already read them didn’t want to (they’re more fun reading than particularly educational, after all). Next I tried a couple of local libraries. Each has a relatively good selection of material on high-school level science and math subjects, so I thought it would be reasonable. But the people in charge of accepting materials at the libraries were of the opinion that no one would ever come to them to learn math. Having material that requires the knowledge of calculus (which is really the only pre-requisite for most of these journals) was considered absolutely beyond the reach of the normal populace.
This struck me. When I was in high school, I read a lot. And I went to the library a lot. At the time, I was not nearly so dedicated to the idea of becoming a mathematician – that didn’t strike me until halfway through my senior year. I didn’t know what I wanted, and so I read lots of diverse things from lots of subject areas, and I loved that the library allowed me access to the next level of material, whatever that might be. So in thinking of these journals, which are sort of like a bridge between grade school calculus and arithmetic, and college math and research. This is a big gap! I think that one of the big reasons that math has such bad connotations is that most people think it as merely arithmetic. To be honest, I didn’t know what math was until I went to Georgia Tech. It is lucky that I liked what I went to Tech to do – but ultimately a fluke.
So the fact that the libraries wouldn’t accept these journals rubbed me the wrong way, just like the common misperception (which, ironically, is caught by my inbuilt spell-checker) that math and arithmetic are one and the same. There is a quote that I have liked since I first heard it: “Children are capable of an enormous amount, and the problem with our educational system is the grown-ups.” It’s from the documentary The Lottery.
The next place I tried was a used-bookstore where I’ve gone for many years, and that has consistently had a few textbooks in stock. It was sort of a long shot, and it is not so surprising to me that they didn’t take them (they sort of feel like any other periodical, which they also don’t take). Well, how troublesome.
I finally talked to my old high school, and my old calculus teacher. In hindsight, I should have tried this before I went to the bookstore. I thought they could either go to the library there, or that my teacher would be willing to have them himself. And as if it were obvious, they accepted them immediately. They were excited.
So was I. I had thought it would be a trivial matter – they are good, fun journals. I loved them, and so would others. But it was not so easy. Go figure.