Math Geek Mom: A Meeting 140 Years in the Making
The idea of a tangent line is central to many aspects of mathematics. In geometry, we study when a line rests on another figure at just one point, the point of tangency. In calculus, the slope of the line tangent to a curve at a point becomes the “derivative” of that curve at that point. One can even think of tangencies in more than one dimension. Imagine an (x,y) plane drawn on a table with a three dimensional object resting on it. One can therefore find a point of tangency in the x direction, and also one in the y direction.
The idea of a tangent line is central to many aspects of mathematics. In geometry, we study when a line rests on another figure at just one point, the point of tangency. In calculus, the slope of the line tangent to a curve at a point becomes the “derivative” of that curve at that point. One can even think of tangencies in more than one dimension. Imagine an (x,y) plane drawn on a table with a three dimensional object resting on it. One can therefore find a point of tangency in the x direction, and also one in the y direction. I found myself thinking of this recently when two dates almost coincided this past week. This past week, I celebrated my birthday and in a few days I will celebrate Mother’s Day. In many ways, these two dates are tangential in two dimensions.
They are tangential in the sense that this year they both appear in the same week, with my birthday on Tuesday and Mother’s Day on Sunday. In the years in which we wanted to be parents but could not, Mother’s Day was a painful day that I often wished would just go away. I was most disturbed when the church I went to focused on mothers and Mother’s Day, leaving those of us without children feeling like second class citizens. I would often leave crying, with my heart even more broken.
It was during those years that I discovered the true history of Mother’s Day, which made the pain of the day seem less stinging. For, despite what the people at the greeting card companies want us to believe, Mother’s Day began as a day of Peace, with a call to all mothers to pause for a minute to work to create a world in which peace could thrive. I have a copy of the original declaration of Mother’s Day, written in 1870 by Juliet Ward Howe, hanging on my office door. It invites mothers to take a day away from their chores to help build a better world for all of our children. The celebration on Sunday is therefore much more than an excuse to buy flowers or chocolate (but I will still happily take the chocolate, thank you!)
Tangential in this other dimension, my birthday is on a day that is immediately recognizable here in Northeast Ohio. I was exactly seven years old and living very far away from here when the Ohio National Guard fired upon a group of college students, killing four of them and wounding nine others, at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970. I cannot imagine the pain that the parents of those children must have felt as they received the phone calls telling them of their children’s fate.
Although she is no longer an infant, I still experience the feeling of wanting nothing more than to protect my daughter from the dangers of the world, of knowing that I would throw myself in front of a truck, or more, to save her. And it therefore does not take much to imagine the feeling that other mothers must have for their own children. This recognition of a common humanity shared by mothers and others who nurture is central to the powerful line from the declaration that proclaims
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs." ”
What can we do, as educators and parents, to build a more peaceful world for our children? I have a few thoughts, and want to hear from others about theirs. For example, as parents, my husband and I do not allow toy guns in our house. As a teacher, I once had my students in a First Year Seminar write their own obituaries, answering the question of how they wanted their lives to be remembered. I also believe that helping students see a larger world through my teaching in economics classes also helps them to grow into peacemakers.
In honor of all who educate and nurture the next generation, be we mothers in the traditional sense or not, I propose that we respond to the request first asked one hundred and forty years ago.
While Juliet Ward Howe probably did not have this space on the World Wide Web in mind when she proposed that
“…a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects…”,
I must point out that this space on the internet does quite a good job of meeting her description. And so, I wait for your suggestions as to what more we, as mothers and/or as educators, can do to help promote “The great and general interests of peace.”?
Wishing a very Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who nurtures our young people!
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