30 November 2008

A Russian teacher in America

A Russian teacher in America, by Andrei Toom.

It's what it sounds like. Toom repeats the familiar litany that in America, students learn for grades, and only incidentally for learning; it's an interesting read, mostly because of the perspective that he's able to bring to it as somebody who didn't grow up within the American system.


Anonymous said...

That's a really tough read. He reports on the motivations of people he has never met and on what he had for breakfast with the same style and tone. It's not him - Soviet emigre writing tends to make three points: 1. Me, or my group, or my family, or my friends, or my associates were absolutely unbelievably wonderful. 2. There is a secret to understanding why Soviet society was both horrible and great, and I will share it with the reader, and 3. America is powerful and wonderful, but vulnerable because it's people and leaders are stupid.

Of course, these sorts of theses were never short (need adequate space for the author to praise himself).

I can't believe they still float around.


Anonymous said...

I think that the last paragraph of page 13 (of the PDF = page 129 of the journal) is telling:

"I understand that I have very little experience with the bulk of the Russian population. Most of my students in Moscow were children of intellectuals, because in Russia (as in most countries) a much smaller percentage of youngsters than in U.S. go into higher education. In fact, what is going on in America is an experiment: to give higher education to those strata of society which remain deprived of it in most other countries. My concern is that this should really be an education, not an imitation."

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit surprised to see this resurface now, since I thought it got a certain amount of notice when brought up last year, via one of Alexandre Borovik's old posts. See e.g.


I seem to remember skimming Toom's essay and, while not agreeing with all of its diagnoses or recommendations, feel Jonathan at comment #1 might be being prematurely harsh. The three points he mentions can with minor alterations apply to any self-identified "non-indigenous group", no?

However, as I'm not familiar with the "genre", I admit that perhaps this sort of thing becomes more trying when wheeled out repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

I've read a number of articles by Toom, and I don't think the three points outlined by Jonathan are quite where Toom is coming from. I think he is sincere in his desire to teach and reach students, and honestly perplexed by his experiences with students here; I don't think he is putting on airs.

You can glean a bit more of his own educational background from this [much shorter] review which appeared in the American Mathematical Monthly some years ago -- apparently very different from what is typical here.

misha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
misha said...

Here is another diatribe by Toom. The main point: American mathematical education SUCKS.