Edward Frenkel didn’t study Math Education

I presume that professor Edward Frenkel has contributions to research mathematics (RM), though I am not in RM and not qualified to judge. Being a teacher of mathematics myself and a proponent of re-engineering math education, see my book Elegance with Substance, I am sympathetic to his background as a refugee from Russia (with perhaps often better mathematics than the USA) and his endeavour to enhance the quality of mathematics education in both Russia and the USA.

My problem is that he is a research mathematician (RM) and not a researcher in education of mathematics (EM). Thus the same problems return that Elegance with Substance already exposed. Edward Frenkel is a best-selling media-star with the charisma of Sean Connery preaching however a somewhat perverted story on education. He is probably full of good intentions but deludes himself and the audience.

Paraphrasing Sean Connery’s film From Russia with love Frenkel explains that he is from Russia with both math and love. In the Stephen Colbert Show, after discussing the fractions of wodka drinking, Colbert asks (minute 4):”Is it 2+2 or whatever Putin says it is ?” Frenkel dodges the question by saying that he cannot speak “for Putin”. But that wasn’t exactly the question, and it is remarkable that a mathematician isn’t precise.

Colbert asking Frenkel: "Is it 2+2 or whatever Putin says it is ?" (Source: show video)

Colbert asking Frenkel: “Is it 2+2 or whatever Putin says it is ?” (Source: show video)

In the Los Angeles Times opinion piece How our 1,000-year-old math curriculum cheats America’s kids“, it is striking that he isn’t precise again. Of course the curriculum has changed in the last 1000 years. For example, derivatives were included. More to the point, however, the USA had its “math wars”, partly provoked by the Russian Sputnik. In one video online, it is indeed asked whether media-star Frenkel himself would be the new Sputnik that alarms the USA to get its act together.

Overall, it is a wrong diagnosis to hold that the curriculum wasn’t changed. The true diagnosis is that it are research mathematicians (RM) like Edward Frenkel himself who have no idea about empirical education who continue to throw monkey wrenches into the discussion on the education of mathematics (EM). Elegance with Substance advises the parliaments of the world to have investigations to break the stranglehold of these nutcase research mathematicians. What is necessary is to re-structure the mathematics industry so that education is recognised as an empirical science. See the approach of using the model of the medical school.

Who watches the video’s of professor Frenkel’s performances will be appalled, or should watch till one is. He  uses “mathematics” in every other sentence as if this would explain anything. Overall, the audience sits up and looks like rabbits in the searing lights of the nutcase but sexy young professor.  “Why are you speaking about love, I hate mathematics,” Colbert asks (paraphrased). Frenkel provides a silly rationale: You have been taught painting fences, not painting masterpieces (paraphrased).

So, please explain, professor Frenkel: (a) Everyone can be taught how to paint a masterpiece ? (b) And there is no need for you to look into the empirical science of education of mathematics, and first write some reports on that, before you commit the fraud andl crime of a breach in the integrity of science that you should not claim results that you are not qualified for ?


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