Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Gian-Carlo Rota on teaching ordinary differential equations

One of my pet aversions during college days is a course on ordinary differential equations. Rota lets himself go on the topic "Why is it that no one has undertaken the task of cleaning the Augean stables of elementary differential equations? I will hazard an answer: for the same reason why we see so little change anywhere today, whether in society, in politics, or in science. Vested interests dominate every nook and cranny of our society, even the society of mathematicians. A revamped elementary differential equations course would require Professor Neanderthal at Oshkosh College to learn the subject anew. The fatuous, expensive, multi-colored textbooks that are now cornering the market would be forced out of print. New textbooks would have to be written. We know what an effort goes into writing a textbook, and how negatively such an effort is rewarded. No clear-headed young mathematician will risk ruining his or her career by writing such a book, as I did." That was from 1997 article about forty years after i took the course.

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