Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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11/1/15: where does our information come from?

A very happy new year to all my readers, back now in sunny Dar es Salaam.  Actually, no, not sunny right at the moment,grey and overcast having been raining hard this morning, hard enough to discourage me from going out but I might have been a bit pathetic.

Anyway, I'm back and no longer spending all day poring over 'The Times' killer sudoku puzzles.  And back with a bit of a bump - a new group of students started last Monday, my first day back in the office.  But no, not in the office, my office no longer exists, we're in the beginning stages of a big building project which means the entirety of the second floor of the building has been gutted with a third storey about to be built.  And in the meantime the work of the Institute carries on! All faculty - academic staff - are in a large shared office on a temporary basis, with a certain amount of banging and crashing going on.  I would like to assure all concerned readers that I bring to my responsibility of ensuring continuity of student experience my normal levels of serenity and calm.  Actually, one of my colleagues suggested I made sure I relax over the weekend, presumably to ensure I can be my normal uptight self come Tuesday, Monday being a public holiday - hurrah for Zanzibari independence!  Although I'm not entirely sure that was her intention....

Induction week went pretty smoothly in the circumstances, a group of excellent students with whom I look forward to working over the coming year..  And so, when a gap suddenly appeared in the schedule, very pleased to step in - never quite sure if the sound of my voice is as pleasing to over people as it is to me, I live in hope - to do an exercise I devised a couple of years ago, 'Where does our information come from?'  It's based on the introduction of this journal article I wrote a few years ago now, and the idea is to go through the article, marking statements according to whether they represent fact / judgement / opinion / inference / research / other.  It makes for quite an interesting discussion, and helps, I think, in the early stages of a masters programme get to grips with a crucial issue when studying at this level: where does our information come from?  What importance can we give it?  If it contradicts what is being said somewhere else, how do we resolve that contradiction?  Is it reasonable to disagree with what is being said?  On what basis?

So, in the introduction, describing moving from a school in Berkshire to a school in London in the early 1990s, I refer to children as being 'polite'.  Now, of course, in normal conversation we would not question that, but it is very much part of the academic approach to ask: what exactly do we mean by polite?  How is the determination made?  Is politeness a consistent concept or does it vary according to the whims of the adult world?  And to what extent is politeness a branch of geography rather than an absolute concept?  As mentioned before, Tanzanian children are taught, once they have used the highly respectful greeting word, 'Shikamoo' to repeat it until they get the required response, 'Marahaba'.  Certainly there is no equivalent that I am aware of in my own culture.

So, induction week is now over, courses begin in earnest on Tuesday after the public holiday.  It is not reasonable to suppose that, after 2.5 years, every day is straightforward and easy, but it does remain a privilege to work with the leaders in education in East Africa in providing a clear theoretical basis for future professional practice.

3 Comments to 11/1/15: where does our information come from?:

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Carolyn on 09 March 2015 08:28
From where does our information come? !
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Geoff on 10 March 2015 05:56
Ah, Carolyn, where would I be without you? Can't decide whether to concede the point or say that language evolves and, just like split infinitives, finishing a sentence with a preposition can no longer be considered incorrect. On balance I think I'll concede the point. Thank you for contributing, Geoff
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Carolyn on 10 March 2015 07:02
Blessed are the meek! In my first year at Exeter, my tutor picked me up on a similar point which stung sharply (on my pride! ) but I guess I haven't forgotten it! He framed the criticism by saying, I was surprised at a literary woman like you making this mistake! So the flattery eased my pain! I'm in bed at the mo with high temperature, sore throat...it's at times like these that I find myself catching up in blogdom, and very entertaining it is too!

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