Alexandria’s Dog is Now a Teacher


Photo by alex-s.

A reader of Indian descent has been kind enough to write to me about a difference in our cultures. In the US, or at least in the parts with which I am familiar, it is common to name one’s pet after a famous person. In India, however, to name a dog after a human is a very deep insult.

I am sorry! It was not intended that way.

Therefore, I have re-named Alexandria Jones‘s dog after a Westerner. I would like to keep the tradition of naming the characters in my Alex stories after people in math history, so I am hoping this one will not offend anyone.

Peter Ramus:
Homeschooler, Teacher, Magnet for Trouble

Peter Ramus is also known as Petrus Ramus or as Pierre de la Ramée. Born in France in 1515, he was educated at home until the age of twelve, when he entered the Collège de Navarre in Paris. He worked his way through college, graduated with a master’s degree at the age of 21, and began teaching philosophy — until his attacks on the dominant Aristotelian curriculum of his day got him banned.

Ramus switched to the study of mathematics, was reinstated, and rose to become the head of the the Collège de Presles. Always involved in controversy, however, he converted to Calvinism and spent several years in exile due to religious wars.

In addition to being a popular lecturer and author, Ramus was determined to reform educational philosophy. He had no patience for mnemonic tricks or rote learning. Instead, he thought it was the teacher’s job to break each of the liberal arts down into its most basic principles and organize these into a systematic and practical method of study. Above all else, education should be useful.

Due to his growing conviction about the fundamental importance of mathematics, he proposed a chair of mathematics at the University of Paris. Putting his money where is mouth was, Ramus endowed the chair in his will.

In 1572, he was killed in a massacre of French Huguenots.

A New Style of Teaching

By emphasising the central importance of mathematics and by insisting on the application of scientific theory to practical problem solving, Ramus helped to formulate the quest for operational knowledge of nature that marks the Scientific Revolution.

M. S. Mahoney
in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Peter Ramus promoted many educational reforms, including:

  • the simplification of knowledge, using his “laws of method”
  • attention to pedagogy, the science of effective teaching
  • increased attention to teaching physics and other sciences
  • an emphasis on experimentation and practical application
  • a de-emphasis of theoretical speculation (including abstract geometry proofs)

For at least a century after he died, Ramists and Aristotelians continued to argue about what logic really was and what a university curriculum should be. In recent years, he has again sparked controversy, as historians grapple with understanding Ramus the teacher and his influence on the history of education.


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2 thoughts on “Alexandria’s Dog is Now a Teacher

  1. Isn’t that dog beautiful? And it is funny that the photographer’s name is Alex, too.

    Yes, cultural differences are fascinating — but easy to get snagged by, too. We spent a few months in Micronesia with a short-term mission group. Over there, it is insulting to step over someone’s legs if they are sitting on the floor, because that is treating them like a dog or inanimate object. Imagine a crowd of exhausted teens and young adults in a little cabin. How do you get across the room to the kitchen? None of the islanders had thought to mention that particular cultural fine point. Oops!

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