Tracking an email address from a subscribers’ list to the local news bulletin of a tiny village somewhere in the French mountains, I ended up at the Maths department of Wellington College.

There I found the following partial explanation as to why I find it increasingly difficult to convey mathematics to students (needless to say I got my math-education in the abstract seventies…)

“Teaching Maths in 1950:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £ 100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Maths in 1960:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £ 100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or £80. What is his profit?

Teaching Maths in 1970:

A logger exchanges a set A of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. The set C the cost of production, contains 20 fewer elements than set M. What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?

Teaching Maths in 1980:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £ 100. His cost of production is £80 and his profit is £20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Maths in 1990:

By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes £20. What do you think of this way of making a living? How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the

trees? (There are no wrong answers.)

Teaching Maths in 2000:

Employer X is at loggerheads with his work force. He gives in to union pressure and awards a pay increase of 5% above inflation for the next five years.

Employer Y is at loggerheads with his work force. He refuses to negotiate and insists that salaries be governed by productivity and market forces.

Is there a third way to tackle this problem? (Yes or No).”