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The New Mayan Math
By Phillip Parotti
19 May 2016
From: Arthur Winterbourne, Dean, East Redford College
To: Dr. Freda Tizzanetski-Gonzalez, Department of Mathematics
Dear Dr. Tizzanetski-Gonzalez:
Thank you for bringing to my attention your view that our completely bankrupt white-male Eurocentric hegemonic curriculum must give way to a more enlightened pluralistic multi-culturalism if we, as a people, are to curtail the forces of imperialistic phallic oppression. And let me thank you too for sending along the five copies of Ms. Dworkin's Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics. Ms. Dworkin's arguments are, as you say, “most interesting.”
Regarding your proposal to introduce pre-Columbian mathematics into the curriculum—specifically, to devote all sixteen weeks of MATH 121: MATHEMATICS FOR THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER to the means by which the Mayans first derived the abstract quantity of zero—I hope that you will understand that I cannot at this time favor making any change to that course that might strike the other members of your department as precipitous. Clearly, considering the sweeping demographic changes which these United States are currently enjoying, your proposal shows both prescience and merit, so I wish to assure you that my reluctance to make the changes you suggest is in no way intellectual. Rather, until the entire question can enjoy the quiet degree of scholarly study that it deserves, I seek to prevent the Department of Mathematics from experiencing any aspect of the intemperance which seems currently to have gripped the Department of English. But perhaps some explanation will be helpful.
In August, prior to the commencement of the present academic year, Professor Beeman, Chair of the Department of English, hired two new, highly qualified Assistant Professors to fill tenure-track appointments on his faculty. Dr. Gloria Simone—her dissertation, “The Influence of the Bolivian Love Lyric upon the Metrical Variations in Love's Labor's Lost,” is much admired—arrived on campus with an already considerable reputation for scholarly contributions to multicultural curriculum development. As a result, given considerable freedom by Professor Beeman, Dr. Simone set about reorganizing ENGLISH 265, the English Department's course in world literature, dropping Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Virgil in favor of a generous selection of Aztec war poetry while discarding Dante in order to include work by Lopt Ghot, the Nepalese poet, and one novel each by Yukio Mishima and Luo Guanzhong. Stimulated in part by Dr. Simone's innovations, Dr. Harriet Firth, Dr. Beeman's other new appointment—declaring Melville, James, and Faulkner to be phallic supremacists, retroactively guilty of mind rape according to the subjective interpretation of harm--sought to remove all three from the American literature curriculum in order to replace them with the collected works of Dorothy Parker. This, coming hard on the heels of last year's contentious debate with the party that had declared Mark Twain to be a Fascist and Huckleberry Finn to be nothing more than white supremacist propaganda—touched off a spark that has ignited the entire department, and thus far, nothing that I have been able to do has been of the slightest help in controlling the conflagration. Indeed, the heat generated has reached such extremes that, according to Dr. Firth, colleagues have twice tried to run over her with their automobiles, and just this morning, I received word that our Hawthorne specialist has tried to nail shut the door to Dr. Simone's office, with Dr. Simone inside.
Clearly, Dr. Tizzanetski-Gonzalez, while I believe the study of Mayan number theory to be both interesting and useful, I am also convinced that the best way to proceed toward implementation is for all parties to take the question under advisement because none of us wishes to appear impetuous in so important an undertaking. In keeping with this consideration, I am today establishing a new committee, The School of Arts and Sciences Multicultural Studies Committee, a committee which I hope you will agree to Chair. If you accept this important appointment, I charge you with studying the entire spectrum of multicultural thought and recommending to me—say in three years, or about the time you come up for tenure—a comprehensive course of action which may serve as a guide for all of the disciplines in the college. Owing to their deep interest in the subject, I am also asking Dr. Simone and Dr. Firth to serve with you for I know that I can count on each of you to bring your combined expertise as well as a spirit of high seriousness to your endeavors. And may I wish you the very best of luck with your deliberations.
Phillip Parotti has published, in addition to three novels, essays and short fiction in a wide variety of little magazines including Southern Humanities Review, Georgia Review and Sewanee Review. Now retired after a long teaching career, he lives in southwestern New Mexico where he continues to write and work as a print artist.