Like Helen, many things have been abducted and taken from their homes, brought as a foreigner among a strange city, perhaps enticed there by a beautiful Parisian prince. Many such things indeed. Despite, however, what one’s sentiments are toward Helen’s culpability in her fiasco, we can rest assured that in the abduction of mathematics, math itself has merely been the victim. There is no Aphrodite strong enough to entice mathematics away from her family and friends. She is too dependent upon them; they are too dependent upon her. But abducted is the current state of mathematics in education.
To be sure, mathematics is good for children. Mathematics is very good for childhood. Mathematics is necessary for childishness. Yet, even with all the push in mathematics and the sciences, there is a real sense that math instructors may feel quite isolated in today’s classical Christian academy. There are a few reasons for this, some which the classical community must own and fix as soon as possible, but the main reason is that mathematics in general has gone through quite a change over the past few centuries. In academic institutions and popular sentiment, mathematics has been captured, removed from its home, and placed inside a four-walled room closed in by technology, economics, business, and engineering. But math must be liberated, and here is how it starts. Take these quotes and read them to your math classes. Consider the much broader and more beautiful place mathematics has in the formation of our souls. Consider, “non-math” teachers, how math finds its place among the beauties and bounties of your subject.
“…I even commend that which has been set up in our own day—I mean geometry, astronomy, and the so-called eristic dialogues…I urge those who are inclined towards these disciplines to work hard and apply themselves to all of them, saying that even if this learning can accomplish no other good, at any rate it keeps the young out of many other things which are harmful. Nay, I hold that for those who are at this age no more helpful or fitting occupation can be found than the pursuit of these studies.” - Isocrates, Panathenaicus
“You have been wishing to know my views with regard to liberal studies. My answer is this: I respect no study, and deem no study good, which results in money-making. Such studies are profit-bringing occupations, useful only in so far as they give the mind a preparation and do not engage it permanently. One should linger upon them only so long as the mind can occupy itself with nothing greater; they are our apprenticeship, not our real work. Hence you see why ‘liberal studies’ are so called; it is because they are studies worthy of a free-born gentleman. But there is only one really liberal study,--that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled. All other studies are puny and puerile. You surely do not believe that there is good in any of the subjects whose teachers are, as you see, men of the most ignoble and base stamp? We ought not to be learning such things; we should have done with learning them…The mathematician teaching me how to lay out the dimensions of my estates; but I should rather be taught how to lay out what is enough for a man to own. He teaches me to count and adapts my fingers to avarice; but I should prefer him to teach me that there is no point in such calculations, and that one is non the happier for tiring out the bookkeepers with his possessions—or rather, how useless property is to any man who would find it the greatest misfortune if he should be required to reckon out, by his own wits, the amount of his holdings. What good is there for me in knowing how to parcel out a piece of land, if I know not how to share it with my brother? What good is there in working out to a nicety the dimensions of an acre, and in detecting the error if a piece has so much as escaped my measuring-rod, if I am embittered when an ill-tempered neighbor merely scrapes off a bit of my land? The mathematician teaches me how I may lose none of my boundaries; I, however, seek to learn how to lose them all with a light heart...You know how to measure the circle; you find the square of any shape which is set before you; you compute the distances between the stars; there is nothing which does not come with the scope of your calculations. But if you are a real master of your profession, measure me the mind of man! Tell me how great it is, or how puny! You know what a straight line is; but how does it benefit you if you do not know what is straight in this life of ours?” – Seneca, On Liberal and Vocational Studies
“And geometry, sowing the seeds of equality and just proportion in the soul, which is fond of learning, will, by means of the beauty of continued contemplation, implant in you an admiration of justice.” – Philo, On Mating with the Preliminary Studies
“Arithmetic is the science of pure extension determinable by number; it is the science of numbers. Writers on secular science assign it, under the head of mathematics, to the first place, because it does not presuppose any of the other departments. Music, geometry, and astronomy, on the contrary, need the help of arithmetic; without it they cannot arise or exist…the holy Fathers were right in advising those eager for knowledge to cultivate arithmetic, because in large measure it turns the mind from fleshly desires, and furthermore awakens the wish to comprehend what with God’s help we can merely receive with the heart. Therefore the significance of number cannot be underestimated. Its very great value for an interpretation of many passages of Holy Scripture is manifest to all who exhibit zeal in their investigations. Not without good reason is it said in praise of God, ‘Thou has ordained all things by measure, number, and weight’ (Book of Wisdom 11:21).” – Rhabanus Maurus, Education of the Clergy
“…the Holy Trinity makes use of geometry in so far as it bestows manifold forms and images upon the creatures which up to the present day it has called into being, as in its adorable omnipotence it further determines the course of the stars, as it prescribes their course to the planets, and as it assigns to the fixed stars their unalterable position. For every, excellent, and well-ordered arrangement can be reduced to the special requirements of this science…This science found realization also at the building of the tabernacle and temple; the same measuring rod, circles, spheres, hemispheres, quadrangles, and other figures were employed. The knowledge of all this brings to him, who is occupied with it, no small gain for his spiritual culture.” Rhabanus Maurus, Education of the Clergy